This is a story that has been slowly unfolding over the last year and now will finally see its day in in court. Paul Murphy, former Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy, is suing Sheriff Bill Elfo for wrongful termination. Murphy alleges Elfo retaliated against him for not supporting his reelection campaign and assisting one of his opponents. He is represented by Robert Butler and the case will be heard in Western Washington District Federal Court. You can read the legal complaint here.
How did this all unfold? Back in 2011, Bill Elfo was running for his third term as sheriff. Despite a relatively positive profile with the public, there was some unrest within the sheriff’s office and two of his deputies (Deputy Bob Taylor and Detective Steve Harris) ran against their boss for the top job. During this time, Paul Murphy created the “Campaign to un-elect Elfo” facebook page and during his off hours, used it to air negative stories about Bill Elfo.
I met Murphy during this time, as I was helping Steve Harris organize a doorbelling operation. He struck me as a determined man, a little overly passionate at times, but always professional.
During the 2011 campaign, Elfo allegedly began monitoring the facebook page from work and contacted the county attorney to see if Murphy could be fired for maintaining the anti-Elfo facebook page. The county attorney told him no.
After the election (Elfo won in a landslide, despite his opponent receiving the coveted Political Junkie endorsement), Elfo called Murphy into his office and asked him to resign. Murphy refused. Over the next six months, Elfo allegedly hunted around for a reason to fire Murphy and finally, on June 22, 2012 he terminated Murphy for allegedly mishandling a County hard drive and being “oftentimes insubordinate”.
Murphy consulted with an attorney and launched his lawsuit and now will have his day in court. The facebook page in question is still live, by the way, under the guise of “Boot Bill Elfo” and currently has 449 likes.
Obviously, this case is going to be one for the courts to decide, but it highlights some of the challenges of working in public institutions. When your boss is elected by the public, do you have an obligation to stand by him for reelection? What about the pressure within the workplace to support their reelection effort? Especially for positions that are not overtly political, like county sheriff, auditor or treasurer. As a manager, can you fire an employee simply for believing that someone else could do your job better?