Mills Attorney: Employee Doesn’t Have Grounds For Defamation Lawsuit
The former information technology employee of the Town of Mills cannot sue it and two former officials for defamation because they have immunity under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, the town's attorney told a judge Tuesday.
Eric Salveggio filed the defamation lawsuit last fall against former Mayor Marrolyce Wilson and former Treasurer/Clerk Lisa Whetstone who said he was linked to an embezzlement scheme with the town.
Salveggio, who represented himself in court, alleges Wilson and Whetstone committed defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. They made him a scapegoat, so he wants them to be held accountable, and to recover $256,000 for legal fees, loss of future wages, and pain and distress.
The town, Wilson and Whetstone asked the court for the hearing to dismiss Salveggio's lawsuit.
The town's attorney Rick Koehmstedt told Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey they were acting within the scope of their employee duties according to the Governmental Claims Act.
Public officials, Koehmstedt said, are immune from liability with certain exceptions such as incidents with motor vehicles, property, airports, health care facilities, and tortious conduct of peace officers.
Salveggio had worked for the town and, despite excellent job performance reviews, he was let go in 2015. He got a job as a contractor for the U.S. Veterans Administration, which in turn ordered a customary background check.
An investigator contacted Wilson and Whetstone, who said he was involved in an embezzlement scheme being investigated by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.
Salveggio was placed on leave during the investigation, which lasted months during which he lost income.
The federal Office of Personnel Management did its own investigation and Salveggio eventually was cleared of all wrongdoing. Even so, he told the court that he still has a black mark on his record.
The DCI's investigation -- a result of the Wyoming Department of Audit's discovery of major financial irregularities in the town's bookkeeping practices -- led to the indictment of Whetstone. She was charged with one count of grand theft, and one charge of failing as a public servant to account for, deliver and pay over property received by virtue of the office. Whetstone allegedly stole $64,000 from the town. She is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 13.
The investigation also lead to four misdemeanor charges against Wilson for conflict of interest, official misconduct, interference with a peace officer, and being an unauthorized holder of a local liquor license.
During the hearing Tuesday, Salveggio said he had a lot of documents proving his case, but Koehmstedt interrupted him saying the motion hearing was not an evidentiary hearing.
Whatever Salveggio is claiming, Koehmstedt said, falls squarely under the Government Claims Act
Forgey said he will take the arguments under advisement and issue a ruling later.