Turkia Awada Mullin wants her job as Metro Airport CEO back, with back pay, claiming in a lawsuit that she was fired in an illegal closed session of the board.
Mullin sued this morning in Wayne County Circuit Court, claiming the Airport Authority Board violated her rights and those of the public when it met in closed session Oct. 31 and discussed her status. The board emerged from the 90-minute closed session and voted 5-2 to fire her. The decision came just 55 days after the same board had voted unanimously to name her to the airport’s top job at an annual salary of $250,000.
“The Court should invalidate” the airport authority’s “decision to terminate plaintiff because defendant did not comply with the Act's open meeting requirements,” the suit claims.
The suit also demands access to the minutes of the closed session discussion. The airport authority denied her access to those minutes when she requested them last month, telling her lawyer in a letter that the minutes were subject to attorney-client privilege.
The suit is the second against the airport authority claiming it violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act by meeting privately to discuss Mullin’s fate. Labor activist Robert Davis filed a suit as well, calling the session illegal. The law allows public bodies to meet privately on personnel matters but only at the request of the employee. Mullin’s attorney Raymond Sterling attended the meeting at which she was fired and demanded on open sesson.
Mullin’s employment sparked a public outcry after the administration of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano acknowledged that it paid her a $200,000 severance when she willingly left her job as chief development officer to become airport CEO. She and Ficano, who approved the payout, initially defended it. Ficano later called it a mistake and Mullin returned it.
The scandal sparked an internal probe, a county commission review and a federal grand jury investigation in the Ficano administration.
Mullin’s suit asks the court to order the board to hold a new meeting to reconsider her. At a minimum, she wants the board that fired her to convene another meeting at which the board would hold its discussion in public.
Mullin’s employment contract calls for her to receive the balance of three years salary, more than $700,000, if she is fired without cause, which her contract defines as: “dishonesty, theft, willful misconduct, breach of fiduciary duty, or unethical business conduct.”
Some airport board members said at the time that they had cause to fire her, though they wouldn’t say what it was.
At least one board member, Samuel Nouhan, insisted that she had done nothing to violate the terms of her employment contract.