LOS ANGELES—Doug Dowie, the former general manager of Fleishman-Hillard’s Los Angeles office who is at the center of the over-billing scandal involving the city’s Department of Power & Water, is suing the firm, claiming he was made a scapegoat for the scandal and fired without cause.
Dowie says in the lawsuit that the company’s internal investigation found he did not engage in misconduct. The suit says Fleishman “terminated [Dowie’s] employment in order to scapegoat him for actions of the corporation which have become politically sensitive, and to curry favor with the United States Attorney’s office in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County District Attorney, despite the fact that plaintiff himself has committed no wrongdoing, a fact well known to the defendant.”
Dowie departed in January, along with two other executives—John Stodder, who was later indicted, and Steve Getzug, who took a position with Hill & Knowlton—after being on administrative leave in July of 2004. In January, his replacement as general manager, Richard Klein, made it clear that the firm was making “no accusations” against Dowie or either of the other executives.
The suit comes as the firm continues to seek a resolution to the scandal, after an audit by city controller Laura Chick found $4.2 million in unsupported billings. Fleishman’s own internal investigation turned up about $650,000 in questionable bills.
Dowie is seeking a total of $5 million to $6 million, based on anticipated earnings over 15 years.
Fleishman describes the suit as groundless. “This lawsuit has absolutely no merit,” Kline told L.A. media. “If this litigation goes forward, I’m confident that the facts will show we treated Doug more than fairly. Given the ongoing investigation and pending litigation, it’s simply not appropriate for me to comment further.”
Dowie’s lawsuit states that Fleishman, “in an act of cowardice, summarily placed plaintiff on paid administrative leave, all the while assuring him that, ‘We are not trying to distance ourselves from you’ and that it was only trying to ‘diffuse [sic] the situation.’” Dowie says he would not have accepted administrative leave “had he known that by doing so he would forfeit his right to resign without being terminated.”