Wrongful termination, defamation, fraud claims made against Fairhope mayor


The full text of former City of Fairhope Community Affairs Director Sherry Sullivan’s notice of claim, filed May 25 with the city, has been given to The Courier. The claim alleges wrongful termination, fraud, defamation and a number of other alleged actions taken against Sullivan by Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson.

The Courier had previously submitted a public records request with the city asking for the Sullivan document, but was turned down because it was “confidential or otherwise exempt from disclosure under Alabama law,” according to the city.

The Courier recently was given a copy of the full claim from a confidential source. Its seven pages, written by Sullivan’s attorney Warren Harbison, lay out Sullivan’s claims of wrongful termination and defamation.

The claim

“Ms. Sullivan was an extremely dedicated employee of the City of Fairhope for in excess of sixteen years, who had never been written up, received any disciplinary actions, or received any negative performance evaluations, prior to being wrongfully terminated by Mayor Karin Wilson,” Harbison wrote. “My client’s claims arise from her employment relationship with the City of Fairhope, her dealings with Mayor Karin Wilson, the wrongful termination of Ms. Sullivan, and the continued efforts of Mayor Karin Wilson to sully the good name of Ms. Sullivan.”

Harbison wrote that Sullivan is making multiple claims including wrongful termination, retaliatory discharge, discrimination, fraud, fraudulent inducement, promissory estoppel, equitable estoppel, refusal to participate in criminal activity, defamation, libel, slander, breach of contract and other potential counts that could be brought against the city or Wilson.

“The termination of Ms. Sullivan was an act of retaliation because Mayor Wilson believed that my client, Ms. Sullivan, had told the City Council of a potentially criminal act committed by the Mayor,” Harbison wrote. “Specifically, the Mayor believed that Ms. Sullivan had informed the City Council that the Mayor, Karin Wilson, physically assaulted and/or committed the act of harassment on Human Resources Director Pandora Heathcoe while on City property and while Ms. Heathcoe was in the course of her employment for the City of Fairhope.

“The Mayor then terminated Ms. Sullivan and launched a smear campaign against my client in an effort to cover up this entire situation and to try to discredit my client. The termination and continued action is a concerted effort to cover up the hostile work environment that Mayor Karin Wilson created for at least one employee, Pandora Heathcoe, and the potentially criminal activities of Mayor Karin Wilson.”

Harbison wrote that while “The just and due compensation for my client’s claims are almost not quantifiable given the depth and breadth of the actions and inactions by the city,” the claims could be settled or resolved for the sum of $100,000.

“This amount is far less than the amount that my client will seek should this matter proceed through litigation,” Harbison wrote.

‘The only wrongdoing was conducted by the Mayor’

In a section of the claim entitled “Facts,” Harbison wrote that during the beginning of Wilson’s mayoral campaign, a poll was conducted where a question was posed about who people would vote for as Mayor of Fairhope: Wilson, then-Mayor Tim Kant or Sullivan.

“The Mayor Elect, Karin Wilson, met with Ms. Sullivan, prior to being sworn into office, and reassured Ms. Sullivan that her job was one hundred percent safe, and this was done in the presence of a witness or witnesses,” Harbison wrote. “The bizarre survey conducted during the mayoral campaign caused Ms. Sullivan to question Mayor Elect Karin Wilson’s motives and as such Ms. Sullivan told the Mayor that Ms. Sullivan could pursue other employment opportunities if Ms. Sullivan’s job was not safe and the Mayor reassured Ms. Sullivan that she had nothing to worry about, that Ms. Sullivan had a job so long as she did her job.”

Harbison goes on to cite other instances where Sullivan and other department heads were told by Wilson that their jobs were safe “so long as they did their job.”

Harbison then wrote about the alleged assault committed by Wilson on Heathcoe.

“The Mayor believed that Ms. Sullivan knew about this matter and/or allegedly took action regarding this matter,” Harbison wrote. “Specifically, the Mayor believed that Ms. Sullivan had shared the information that the Mayor physically put her hands on an employee with the City Council President Jack Burrell and/or the City Council.”

Harbison then discusses the firing of Sullivan and former Public Works Director Jennifer Fidler, who was allegedly a direct witness to the alleged assault.

“On or about February 24, 2017, the Mayor terminated Ms. Sullivan and Mrs. Jennifer Fidler and the reason given was ‘I can’t trust you,’” Harbison wrote. “The Mayor then went on to announce publicly that there were reasons for the termination and to disparage and tarnish the good name of Ms. Sullivan. The Mayor tried to smear my client at civic organization meeting(s), City Council meeting, in public and other forums.”

Harbison wrote he had received a copy of Sullivan’s termination report, with the reason for termination checked as “Other.”

“Nothing was attached and Ms. Sullivan has received no written notice or documentation of any alleged wrongdoing because there was no wrongdoing,” Harbison wrote. “The only wrongdoing was conducted by the mayor.”

Comments made by Wilson about Sullivan, Fidler

Harbison then details a series of public statements said or written by Wilson that involved the termination of Sullivan and Fidler.

On her official Mayor Karin Wilson of Fairhope, Alabama Facebook page on March 2, Wilson wrote:

“I appreciate the outpouring of support and understanding by many following Friday’s events. For those who are upset, I want you to know that I care about how you feel. The employees were let go for reason which I cannot disclose at this time, but be assured that those actions were in the best interests of the City. The two employees were long-serving, but tenure does not outweigh what is in the best interest of the City and its citizens. A difficult decision had to be made, and no one likes to make these types of decisions, but it had to be done to protect the integrity and interest of the City at large.”

Harbison also cites a comment made by Wilson at a Feb. 27 special called city council meeting:

“I do want everyone in this room and the citizens of Fairhope to know that although I cannot talk about this issue because of the liability of the City and out of respect to Sherry and Jennifer I made the decision based on something that came up and it was a very hard decision,” Wilson said. “I cannot be specific but i can say that it was a situation that would prevent me from doing my job successfully.”

Harbison also references a civic club meeting at which he said the topic of the firings was discussed.

“On at least one occasion while speaking to or at a Kiwanis Club meeting, the Mayor said that Ms. Sullivan and Jennifer Fidler were fired for cause,” Harbison wrote. “I am sure that it will become necessary for me to obtain the records and or roll from that meeting to get the names of all members who were present and heard the comments.”

Wrongful Termination and Retaliatory Discharge

In a section titled “Wrongful Termination and Retaliatory Discharge,” Harbison quotes the City of Fairhope’s personnel handbook: “the city prohibits retaliation against any employee who in good faith complains about prohibited discrimination or harassment.”

Harbison wrote Sullivan’s firing was “an act of retaliation and an effort to cover up wrongdoing.”

“My client, in her role as a Department Head for the City of Fairhope, had a duty to report misconduct of City of Fairhope employees or agents to the Mayor or Human Resources Director; however, if the person acting inappropriate or potentially breaking the law is the Mayor and the person being harassed or receiving the misconduct is the Human Resources Director then the next logical person or entity would be the City Council,” Harbison wrote. “Any reporting of the Mayor’s misconduct to the City Council would be lawful and not grounds for termination. The Mayor’s act of terminating Ms. Sullivan and smearing the name of Sherry Sullivan was an effort to cover up misconduct and to avoid potential detrimental actions that could result from said misconduct.”

Fraud and Libel/Slander/Defamation

In a section entitled “Fraud,” Harbison wrote that Wilson made “ fraudulent representations” that Sullivan’s job was safe and that Sullivan had “relied on those fraudulent misrepresentations to her detriment.”

“The Mayor’s fraud caused Ms. Sullivan to suffer financially as she would have sought to retire or resign and receive some of her benefits,” Harbison wrote. “The fraud caused Ms. Sullivan to remain employed until such time as the Mayor wrongfully terminated Ms. Sullivan and then insinuated wrongdoing causing damage to her name and reputation and damaging her ability to seek new employment which would not have occurred had Ms. Sullivan resigned or retired.”

Harbison lays out reasoning for several of Sullivan’s other claims, including defamation, libel and slander.

“The Mayor’s actions of publicly discussing the termination, disparaging Ms. Sullivan, and continually insinuating and/or publishing there is or was some wrongdoing on the part of Ms. Sullivan and/or that Ms. Sullivan was terminated for cause constitutes defamation, libel, and/or slander,” Harbison wrote.

Mayor’s reaction

In a statement sent by the mayor’s office to The Courier, when notified that The Courier had received a full text of Sullivan’s complaint, said the following:

“The mayor doesn’t comment on pending or potential litigation,” her office wrote.