A second former IT employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth.
Ronald Burke, a former assistant IT director whose employment was terminated in April, accuses the city of retaliating against him for reporting issues with the city’s cybersecurity and a lack of compliance with federal regulations.
Burke, who was hired in May 2015, supervised William Birchett, a fired IT manager who filed a similar whistleblower lawsuit against the city last week.
Both men are represented by Dallas attorney Stephen Kennedy, who is also representing Joel Fitzgerald, the recently fired Fort Worth police chief.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Dallas County. Burke is seeking more than $1 million.
The lawsuit also accuses the city of being untruthful when it issued a statement last week in response to Birchett’s lawsuit in regard to employees’ medical and personal information being accessible to anyone with Internet access.
In the fall of 2018, the city’s statement read, “the City addressed an employee data concern with a third-party benefit partner which was immediately resolved by the vendor with additional authentication requirements.”
The lawsuit states the employee benefit portal remained unsecure through its old link as of March 5 and called the city’s statement “verifiably false.” It points to a March 5 email, included as an exhibit, in which a Human Resources assistant director admitted to Wright that the benefits team had been unaware that the old link still worked.
“The City is not being forthright when it claims that it ‘immediately’ resolved issues concerning preservation of the City employees’ medical data information, unless your definition of the word immediate means six months,” Kennedy told the Star-Telegram Wednesday.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the city states it “continues to evaluate the allegations and the city is fully prepared to defend itself.”
“The people who have filed these suits were responsible for managing the very security items that they are now criticizing,” the statement reads.
Burke and Birchett allege that they repeatedly reported to city officials cybersecurity issues and that Fort Worth was not in compliance with federal Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) regulations and made concerted efforts to fix the issues that were rejected by city officials. The Criminal Justice Information Services Division is a federally maintained centralized database that law enforcement agencies use to share data and information.
After Birchett’s lawsuit last week, the city said in a statement that the city was in compliance with all federal regulations and that it meets industry standards.
In retaliation, Burke contends, Kevin Gunn, the city’s acting chief financial officer, and Roger Wright, the city’s acting chief technology officer, reassigned the security team he supervised to a different manager in early January and placed a permanent memo in his personnel file falsely accusing Burke of multiple problems with his work.
On Jan. 11, the lawsuit states, Burke received notice that IT was “seriously considering the termination of your employment” and that he was being placed on paid leave until a meeting could be held to allow him to respond to allegations.
Burke, an Air Force veteran left disabled by a 1998 explosion and still dealing with symptoms, was on medical leave when he received a second notice that the meeting would be postponed until his return from leave.
He requested an administrative appeal of the “adverse employment actions” on March 22, the suit states.
Instead, an assistant city attorney notified Burke by letter on April 3 that his request for an administrative appeal constituted his resignation and that his paid leave would terminate upon the expiration of his medical leave. The lawsuit deems that action by the city was further retaliation against Burke.
The city states, “Mr. Burke is deemed to have resigned from the City when he did not return to work following disciplinary action.”
The lawsuit also accuses Gunn and Wright of creating a “hostile work environment” for Burke and other employees. Among exhibits attached to the lawsuit are comments from an employee survey, many of which criticize Gunn and Wright’s leadership.