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McGarvey v. Key Property Management LLC

July 1, 2009

DEBORAH MCGARVEY, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
KEY PROPERTY MANAGEMENT LLC, AND BICENTENNIAL VILLAGE ASSOCIATES LLC, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County The Honorable Nena R. James, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Deborah McGarvey filed a wrongful termination suit against her employer, claiming that she was discharged from her job for reasons that violate public policy. The district court granted summary judgment for the employers, ruling that Ms. McGarvey had not presented facts necessary to sustain her cause of action. Ms. McGarvey challenges that decision. We will affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Ms. McGarvey states these issues:

1. Does or should Wyoming recognize a "free speech" exception to the at-will employment doctrine?

2. Was the Appellant fired in violation of her right to free speech?

3. Did the lower court commit reversible error when it held that the Appellant's free speech claim was barred because her speech had the potential to cause economic harm to her employer?

FACTS

[¶3] Bicentennial Village Associates LLC is a non-profit affordable housing organization. It owned a housing complex in Rock Springs, Wyoming, that provided housing to low-income residents, particularly elderly and disabled persons. Key Property Management LLC acted as the management company for the property. Ms. McGarvey worked as a manager at the housing complex.*fn1

[¶4] While planning renovations to the facility in 2004 and early 2005, company representatives met with residents and staff to discuss the renovations. The Mayor of Rock Springs also attended. Company representatives provided assurances that the renovation would cause minimal disruptions. In particular, Ms. McGarvey recalled company representatives stating that interference with the residents' daily lives would be avoided, that no one would be displaced overnight from any apartment, and that residents' personal property would be safeguarded during the renovations. In addition, company representatives reportedly stated that no one currently living in the housing complex would be forced to move because of changes to the low-income qualifications for the facility.

[¶5] The renovations began in the spring of 2005, and according to Ms. McGarvey, they did not proceed smoothly. Delays and other problems displaced some residents from their apartments overnight. Crews did not complete work on one apartment before beginning work on the next, making it difficult or impossible for residents to use their apartments. Some residents' personal possessions were left unguarded outside the building. Work crews left used appliances, construction debris, and trash at the site, raising Ms. McGarvey's concerns about the safety of the residents. In addition, Ms. McGarvey learned that some residents might not meet the low-income qualifications and requirements, and could be forced to move from the facility.

[¶6] Ms. McGarvey related that she brought these problems and concerns to the attention of company representatives several times over a period of several months, but that she was unsuccessful in effecting any improvements or changes. One day, "on the spur of the moment," she decided to organize a meeting in which residents could bring their problems to the attention of the Mayor of Rock Springs. This meeting took place at the housing complex during regular business hours, and Ms. McGarvey and several residents explained their problems and concerns to the Mayor. According to both Ms. McGarvey and the Mayor, as a result of the meeting and follow-up actions, many of the concerns and problems were eliminated or alleviated.

[¶7] Ms. McGarvey maintains that her motive in organizing this meeting was to assist and protect the residents of the housing complex. Because we are reviewing a grant of summary judgment against Ms. McGarvey, we consider the facts in a light most favorable to her position. See infra ¶ 10. At the same time, we cannot ignore undisputed facts just because they are less favorable to her position. It is undisputed that Ms. McGarvey did not inform her employers of the meeting or invite them to attend. They were not afforded an opportunity to respond to or defend themselves from the accusations the residents and Ms. McGarvey presented to the Mayor. Because the housing complex received tax credits and other government benefits for serving low-income residents, it was important for the employers to maintain good relations with local government officials. Ms. McGarvey was aware of that fact. Yet during the meeting with the Mayor, Ms. McGarvey either stated, or agreed ...


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