Ex-town secretary sues, alleges she was fired for refusing to destroy recording

By Dianna Hunt
Denton Record-Chronicle
Originally published April 18, 2014

The former town secretary of Shady Shores has filed a lawsuit against the town, alleging she was fired because she refused orders to destroy a tape recording of a public meeting.

The suit by Sarah Swanson accuses members of a Town Council subcommittee of violating state law by destroying the recording. Tampering with a government record, including the destruction or altering of records, is a misdemeanor offense.

Swanson was fired Feb. 12.

“Because of her refusal, her employment was terminated,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed after-hours Thursday in Dallas County.

Neither Swanson nor her attorney, Grace Weatherly, could be reached for comment Friday. But Swanson told the Denton Record-Chronicle shortly after being fired that the recording had inadvertently captured the committee members allegedly making “mean” comments about local residents.

When they realized they were being recorded — which is standard practice once a public meeting has been called to order — they ordered her to delete the recording and start over, Swanson said.

Swanson said she refused and left the meeting room. She said she later realized the recording had been erased, according to the lawsuit.

The suit is seeking damages of more than $200,000 and less than $1 million for loss of wages, loss of past and future benefits and emotional pain and suffering. She is also seeking reinstatement to her job or an equal position.

“Every day I think, ‘What happened?’” she told the Record-Chronicle. “How did this get so crazy?”

Town officials could not be reached for comment Friday, but Mayor Cindy Spencer has previously said that Swanson was fired for good reason.

The lawsuit states the incident occurred during a meeting in October of the town of Shady Shores’ investment committee, a subcommittee of the Town Council. Swanson reported to the Town Council, the mayor and the town attorney that the recording had been destroyed in violation of state law, according to the lawsuit.

She also reported alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and Texas Public Information Act, according to the suit.

The suit claims her firing was retaliatory, which would be a violation of public policy.