Former Palo Alto meter reader Brandon Porter is still fired, but not for testifying in a harassment inquiry relating to another employee,
City Manager Frank Benest has ruled.
Benest upheld the firing in an Oct. 4 letter to Adolfo Reidel, a worksite organizer with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521.
"At the time the decision to terminate was made, (Utilities Director Valerie) Fong had no knowledge that Mr. Porter had been interviewed, and no one had knowledge of what he said in the interview," Benest wrote.
Porter, a probationary meter reader with nearly three years of part-time experience, was fired June 28 by Fong. He was let go for unsafe driving and "a performance matter related to meter reading," according to Fong.
But Porter and the union alleged Porter was fired in retaliation for testifying in a harassment inquiry. They cited several unusual aspects of Porter's release, including a threat from the subject of the inquiry and the uncustomary involvement of a department head.
The Weekly outlined the complicated situation in a Sept. 12 article. (Read the article)
The union submitted a letter to Benest Oct. 1, formally requesting an investigation into the matter. Despite repeated notification including an August letter from union Chapter Chair Phil Plymale, a presentation before the City Council and conversations with Human Resources staff, "we have been informed that this official notification is required in order to trigger the City's duty to investigate," Riedel wrote.
Benest responded that the city had been aware of the union's contentions and an investigation had already been conducted.
"The circumstances of this case do not indicate retaliation," Benest wrote.
He said employees involved in the harassment inquiry did not have the authority to fire Porter, Fong had been unaware of Porter's involvement in the harassment inquiry and the city had not completed the inquiry before Porter was fired.
Porter said he has contacted an attorney and has an appointment with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
SEIU attorneys who are assisting Porter "feel this could be a very strong case," Plymale said.
He said the city hired a replacement for Porter, but that hasn't stopped the former employee from pursuing the case.
"I'm not giving up because I really feel like I was wronged," Porter said.