Did a Security Company Lose a Contract for Revenge?
An interesting case arose several years ago in Connecticut whereby the plaintiff alleged that they lost the city’s business because the defendants — the city of New London and its former city manager — intended to retaliate against the plaintiff for having filed a lawsuit complaining about police practices in New London.
The plaintiff security company had a three-year written contract with the city for the upgrade, monitoring and maintenance of security alarms at several city buildings. Upon expiration of the contract term, the plaintiff attempted to renew the written contract but the director of public works put him off and assured him that the plaintiff was “our company” and that “we don’t need a new contract.” The plaintiff continued to perform and bill the city for its alarm-related services but without a formal written contract.
In a completely unrelated matter, the plaintiff filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of New London and several New London police officers, alleging police misconduct. He further alleged that the police had ignored his complaints about his neighbors and that the police in turn had harassed and falsely arrested him following disputes he had with his neighbors. The police-related lawsuit had nothing to do with plaintiff’s company or the services it provided to the city.
After the police lawsuit was filed, after seven years of the plaintiff providing security services, the city initiated a competitive bidding process to select a vendor for the services that had been previously furnished by plaintiff and the city ended up awarding a contract to another company.
The plaintiff filed the current lawsuit and the individual defendants filed summary judgment motions on the basis of qualified immunity. The court denied the defendants’ motion and the defendants appealed. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, concluding that the plaintiff’s police lawsuit “constituted speech that raised matters of public concern protected by the First Amendment and that his right to be free of government retaliation based on such speech was well established at the time the defendants sought and selected an alternate security system provider.” The matter was remanded back to trial.
The trial court pointed out that in order to prove their claim of First Amendment Retaliation, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that “they engaged in protected speech; that the defendants took adverse action against them; and that there was a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse action.” To demonstrate the causal connection the plaintiff must show that the protected speech was a substantial motivating factor in the adverse employment action.
The court concluded that the plaintiff had not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that there was any causal connection between the plaintiff’s police lawsuit and the defendants’ decision to initiate a bidding process or its ultimate decision not to award the alarm services contract to the plaintiff. The court further pointed out that the plaintiff did not offer any evidence of personal animus by the defendants against the plaintiff or that the defendants had made any derogatory comments about them.
The plaintiff principally relied on an inference drawn from temporal proximity … the finding that the bidding process was initiated after the plaintiff had filed his police lawsuit. But the court pointed out, “It is well established that temporal proximity is not alone enough to support a retaliation claim.”
Accordingly, judgment was entered for the defendants.