PORTAGE | Three of the five Portage Street Department employees suspended last week have retained an attorney.
Ken Elwood confirmed Thursday he met with all five of the suspended employees and that three have retained his services.
At this point, Elwood said, his services were sought to protect the employees' rights. However, he would not rule out a future lawsuit against the city over the suspensions.
"Even placing them on administrative leave may be defamation," said Elwood, a former Portage city attorney.
Five employees were suspended Aug. 15 pending a police investigation. No one is revealing the details of incidents leading up to the investigation or suspensions. Police officials have said a report was filed by a noncity employee the morning of the suspensions. That investigation still is ongoing.
Elwood also is representing a Utility Services Department employee who was terminated earlier this summer. Three of that department's employees were suspended earlier this summer and two subsequently resigned their positions with the city. Elwood's client was terminated by the Utility Services Board in July and also is the subject of a police investigation.
Elwood said the suspensions may be related to the union. He said the employees involved are active in Operating Engineers Local 150, which represents street and sanitation and utility department personnel.
"I think it is retaliation against the union," Elwood said. "They are utilizing the criminal process to intimidate the employees."
City Attorney Gregg Sobkowski said he could not comment on the ongoing matter.
Ed Maher, spokesman for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, said, "The goal of the investigation is to determine what happened, and to separate facts from speculation, so for the time being, we will not speculate on motivations or anything else."