Missouri worker settles lawsuit claiming he was fired because of anti-Bush letter

Saturday, June 13, 2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A man who claims he lost his job with a vendor for the Missouri Department of Corrections because of an anti-Bush letter has settled his federal lawsuit with the state for $150,000.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported on its website Friday that Tim Kniest said the settlement equals three years of back pay.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine referred questions to Attorney General Chris Koster's office.

Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Koster, declined to comment.

Kniest, a retired Department of Corrections spokesman, began work in November 2005 with G4S Justice Services Inc., a company that had a contract with the state to administer electronic monitoring devices for people on probation or parole.

The suit said G4S hired Kniest because of his Missouri experience and to work specifically on the state contract. A provision in the contract allowed the department to choose which G4S employees could work on the project.

In early December 2005, newspapers in Jefferson City and St. Louis published a letter from Kniest in which he said President Bush should be impeached because his decision to monitor Americans' phone calls violated the U.S. Constitution and criminal law.

The suit claims Kniest received nothing but favorable evaluations before the letter was published.

But it says that a day after the letter was published, then-Corrections Director Larry Crawford called the company's vice president regarding a "personnel matter" in Missouri. Kniest said he then received a voice mail message from the G4S vice president saying that he "had angered" Crawford, a former Republican state representative.

On March 14, 2006, Thompson sent G4S a letter asking that Kniest be removed from the Missouri contract, providing no explanation. The decision essentially cost Kniest his job because the company had no other positions.

Crawford declined to comment when the AP reached him on his cell phone Friday night.

Judge Scott Wright ruled earlier this year that although there was no question Kniest was fired for writing the letter, the law was unclear on whether the state was liable because the vendor did the firing. A federal appeals court was reviewing the issue when the settlement was reached last month.

Kniest said the settlement shows, "I should not have been required to leave in the first place."

"I think it demonstrates that when you make decisions based on politics rather than the policy of a state agency, it generally does more harm than good," Kniest said.

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