HAMMOND | Former East Chicago Public Library Director Manny Montalvo sued Mayor Anthony Copeland in U.S. District Court on Thursday, claiming he was fired from his position for political reasons.
Montalvo contends the new East Chicago Public Library Board Copeland appointed after taking office fired him without just cause, according to the lawsuit.
Montalvo believes his firing was due to his political support of former Mayor George Pabey, who beat Copeland in the city’s 2007 mayoral primary election. Montalvo also supported a candidate opposing Copeland’s wife, Carolyn Copeland, for East Chicago Democratic Precinct 31 committeewoman in 2010.
“I had no knowledge of the lawsuit being filed, but the case is without merit,” Copeland told The Times on Thursday.
Montalvo also has been dealing with his own legal troubles. He is scheduled to stand trial June 10 in U.S. District Court on two counts of filing false tax returns. He is accused of overstating business expenses and medical and dental expenses totaling more than $80,000 in a case stemming from tax returns filed in 2009 and 2010, according to court records. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Montalvo's lawsuit against the city notes an incident between Montalvo and Copeland at the Precinct 31 poll in 2010 when Montalvo, in his capacity as deputy election commissioner, temporarily suspended voting at the poll until election workers addressed a problem with a voting machine. At that time, Copeland became upset and engaged in a heated confrontation with Montalvo, according to the suit.
Following Pabey’s resignation as mayor over his felony conviction in 2010 for conspiracy and embezzlement of public funds, Montalvo supported former City Councilman Richard Medina over Copeland to fill the vacancy, according to the lawsuit. Montalvo continued to support Medina when he ran against Copeland for a full mayoral term in May 2011.
In February 2011, the Library Board extended Montalvo’s contract as library director until Sept. 30, 2013, albeit with a $20,000 pay cut over budgetary concerns.
Montalvo claims Copeland replaced board members with those who would agree to fire Montalvo, and he lost his job. He claims the reasons the board gave him for his termination were “merely pretext” for violating his rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.
Montalvo subsequently filed for unemployment, and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development determined he had not been fired for just cause. The decision was upheld on appeal by the city.
Montalvo is seeking unspecified punitive damages from Copeland and Library Board member Clifton Johnson.