By Jane Smith
A former Delray Beach water quality inspector, who was reorganized out of her job in January, filed a federal lawsuit July 25 against the city, the city manager and the Utilities Department director.
Christine Ferrigan, who had received Florida whistleblower protection from Palm Beach County’s inspector general over problems she reported in the city’s reclaimed water program, said she was let go in January – five days after she filed a written retaliation complaint against two of her Utilities Department supervisors.
The suit is Ferrigan’s second legal action against the city and the first one against the city manager and utilities director. In her federal complaint, she alleges her U.S. and Florida Constitutional rights were violated.
She is seeking back pay, a similar management-level job to the ones she had applied for but was not selected, and compensatory damages against the three defendants. She is also seeking punitive damages against City Manager Terrence Moore and Utilities Director Hassan Hadjimiry “for her pain, emotional and mental suffering, stress, humiliation and reputational harm.”
Her first legal action, a complaint filed in April with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, named only the city.
Since December, Delray Beach has been operating under a consent order, a legal agreement, with the state Department of Health over the city’s reclaimed water problems. The consent order included a $1 million civil fine against the city, which the city paid on Dec. 7.
The Health Department began its investigation in January 2020 when a South Ocean Boulevard resident called to say she was not properly informed of a cross connection found on her street in December 2018. A cross connection occurs when reclaimed water pipes carrying highly treated wastewater used for lawn irrigation are wrongly connected to the drinking water lines.
The city has spent more than $1 million to inspect each of its reclaimed water locations and add backflow preventers when needed.
Ferrigan previously claimed whistleblower status in Boca Raton in 2008 after she was fired from that city’s water department. After suing the city, she and her attorneys received a $537,500 settlement in 2014 from the city’s insurance company, published reports said. The city did not admit any wrongdoing.