Former environmental specialist sues city of Marco Island for wrongful termination

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Chadd Chustz with the skull of a gopher tortoise in this file photo.

A former Marco Island city employee has filed a wrongful termination suit in District Court against the city, alleging he was fired for exercising his right to free speech.

Chadd Chustz, the city’s former environmental specialist beginning in October 2015, was fired earlier this year but has alleged his termination was tied to him reporting violations of environmental protection laws to state and federal authorities.

The court documents, which were filed Tuesday afternoon in the Middle District of Florida, state Chustz first observed false environmental reports with regards to mangroves and wetlands and reported the violations to his supervisor in May 2017.

Marco Island City Hall

After no action was taken, Chustz reported the violations to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Chustz alleged he received written disciplinary action for reporting the violations, was subject to threats of termination.

Afterward, Chustz received a poor performance review in November 2017 after previously receiving a positive review earlier in the year

Record requests made earlier this year confirmed the positive and negative reviews.

In former Growth Management Director Tami Scott's review, she wrote: "Based on Chadd's exemplary performance, resourcefulness, and positive attitude as the environmental specialist for the city of Marco Island, I recommend his employment status be expanded to full time with compensation at the mid-tier level of pay grade 16 as stipulated by City of Marco Island's published Classification Specification for the position."

In June 2017, Dan Smith, current Director of Community Affairs, wrote that Chustz "has gone beyond his authority to enforce building requirements after permits have been issued" and "has contacted other governmental jurisdictions of authority (FDEP, Army Corps of Engineers), not under his jurisdiction as the enforcement body."

A November 2017 performance review completed by Smith found that Chustz only scored 32 points out a maximum of 57.5, including not passing in areas such as communication, attendance and compliance with rules and procedures.

Once a hiring and firing freeze was lifted in January 2018, the city terminated Chustz’s employment under the auspices of “reorganization,” the court documents state.

The city of Marco Island has not responded to a request for comment regarding Chustz’s lawsuit or the allegations therein.

The lawsuit has requested a cease and desist to prevent retaliation against city employees engaging in free speech, compensatory damages, attorney fees, back pay with interest, front pay and reimbursement of all expenses and losses that have resulted because of Chustz’s termination.