Daniel Zhao

Amidst concerns related to fiscal transparency and accountability, the Elm City now faces an additional challenge. On October 31, a former staffer filed a federal lawsuit against the city for unlawful termination, raising questions about evaluating the merits of wrongful termination claims in the current legal landscape.

Bianca Bowles, who allegedly spent more than $10,000 on a city credit card, was terminated from her position in City Hall when city officials discovered the unauthorized expenditures. She was later charged with several crimes, including second-degree larceny, but is now suing the city. Bowles’ lawsuit, which was delivered to the city two weeks ago, claims that the city violated her right to due process by not granting her a pre-termination trial. She is asking for more than $100,000 in damages.

Bowles’ alleged spending unleashed months of still ongoing scrutiny on the Harp administration’s financial reporting practices. The spending resulted in a Board of Alders request for a public hearing on the city’s credit card usage and policy, which also addressed the Harp administration’s failure to disclose some of its other spending practices. The initial hearing, held at the end of last month, resulted in a request for another, and discussion by the alders regarding card protocol is still ongoing.

Mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer told the News that, “it remains the city’s policy and practice to withhold comment on pending litigation.”

Bowles could not be reached for comment.

“Everyone has the right to be heard,” Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 said. “[Bowles] wasn’t heard throughout her process, so this would make sense. At the same time, I don’t want to look back, months from now, and see our city having accrued thousands and thousands of [dollars in] legal fees.”

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Bowles was employed in various capacities at City Hall for 16 years before her termination in August. Although her most recent role at City Hall was as Executive Administrative Assistant to the City’s Director of Youth Services, she served as a receptionist for Harp for more than four years between 2014 and June of this year.

The complaint against the city has two counts. Both allege that the city violated the constitution’s 14th amendment — the due process clause — in Bowles’ termination. In addition to punitive damages, attorney fees and double the standard amount of fringe benefits under Connecticut law, the lawsuit seeks $100,000 in compensatory damages.

When the spending came to light in August, the Harp administration claimed that Bowles used a high-level staffer’s city-issued credit card while the staffer was out sick. The lawsuit disputes the city’s claim that Bowles racked up fraudulent spending on a city staffer’s credit card.

The suit described the events leading to Bowles’ termination as her being, “falsely accused of having stolen money from the City of New Haven” and “summarily terminated” in the immediate aftermath.

Summary dismissal, in this case, refers to the lack of a hearing before Bowles’ termination. The suit claims that she was not afforded a “Loudermill” hearing prior to her dismissal. “Loudermill” hearings are an outcome from a 1985 Supreme Court case in which the justices held that public sector employees are entitled to a hearing prior to termination as a part of due process. The purpose of this pretermination hearing, which the Loudermill case established as necessary but for which the Court did not prescribe specific requirements, is to allow the employee to respond to charges.

Bowles’ suit states that, in addition to being denied a pretermination hearing, she was not granted a hearing after her dismissal. The second count, building on the due-process claim of the first, adds that Bowles had accrued sick and vacation days during her tenure before her dismissal, which were allegedly not granted to her prior to her termination.

Last month, the police obtained a warrant to arrest Bowles. She faced charges of second-degree larceny, payment card fraud and first-degree identity theft. Instead of the state’s request that she be required to post bond, Superior Court Judge James Spallone released her when she promised to appear in court.

Bowles’ lawsuit was filed by the New Haven law firm, Jacobs and Jacobs, LLC.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu