Denton Energy Center

The Denton Energy Center is shown in May 2018. 

A Dallas County jury awarded two former Denton Municipal Electric employees roughly $3.9 million Tuesday in a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city of Denton.

Michael Grim and Jim Maynard, as well as their attorneys, have long maintained they were unlawfully terminated by the city.

Eric Roberson, one of the attorneys for Grim and Maynard, said he thought the jurors took the case seriously and rendered a true verdict. Family representatives directed calls for comment to the attorney.

“The jury came in and found that the city of Denton had terminated Mr. Grim and Mr. Maynard for retaliation for blowing the whistle on [Denton City] Council member [Keely] Briggs,” Roberson said via phone Tuesday. “And the city did not otherwise have a permissible reason for terminating them.”

Attorneys argued that Briggs had leaked internal documents to the media and that the city fired Grim and Maynard as retaliation for them reporting the leak. Briggs was never a party to the suit, nor was she sanctioned nor disciplined in connection with the allegations.

Ryan Adams, spokesman for the city, on Tuesday sent a response from the city by email.

“The City contends that it acted appropriately and lawfully in the termination of the plaintiffs and will make any determinations regarding an appeal of the verdict at a future date,” the statement read in part.

Adams declined to comment further when asked about the whistleblower violation allegations and the time frame for a decision to appeal.

In his termination letters to the two men, former Deputy City Manager Bryan Langley said in 2017 that he couldn’t trust them following an internal investigation. The investigation looked into how Denton Municipal Electric contracts were negotiated. Langley and an outside attorney, Julia Gannaway, conducted the interviews.

Grim and Maynard were two of four employees put on administrative leave during the investigation, one of whom resigned shortly after the move.

The source of tension was centered around two trips Grim and Maynard took with representatives of vendors they’d done or were doing business with concerning the Denton Energy Center.

During an hourslong interview with Langley and Gannaway in 2017, Grim disclosed a quail hunting trip he had taken with Brian Elwell, a business development officer with Burns & McDonnell. Grim has claimed the trip took place after city officials had awarded Burns & McDonnell a $100 million project to build the power plant.

Maynard, during a similar interview in 2017, disclosed a salmon fishing trip he went on with representatives of Burns & McDonnell and Wärtsilä. Engine manufacturer Wärtsilä was also eventually awarded a $100 million contract connected to the power plant. Maynard said the trip took place before contracts were finalized with either company.

Both maintained their trips did not interfere with contract negotiations.

Jurors decided neither man would have been fired if they hadn’t reported “an alleged violation of law made in good faith.” The verdict also specified that neither man had “to prove the report was the sole cause of termination.”

Jurors awarded money based upon four categories: lost wages, lost employee benefits, damages for pain and suffering and projected future damages.

At more than $2 million, Grim was awarded a larger portion of the damages — nearly half from projected future damages.

Projections included “economic losses, emotional pain and suffering, inconveniences, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other noneconomic losses,” according to the verdict.

The lion’s share — $1 million — of Maynard’s award was calculated using past pain and suffering.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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