Former Charlottesville City Manager Tarron Richardson voluntarily dropped his lawsuit against City Council and city officials Tuesday, according to court filings, and did so with prejudice, meaning the suit is permanently dismissed and can’t be reinstated.
Richardson filed a federal lawsuit in November against City Council as well as former Mayor Nikuyah Walker, former councilor Heather Hill, City Attorney Lisa Robertson and former City Attorney and former Interim City Manager John Blair for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights.
According to court documents, Richardson failed to serve Blair, Hill, Robertson and Walker with papers within 90 days of filing the suit and received a notice from the court on Feb 16 that he must do so within 15 days or the complaint could be dismissed.
The civil suit was filed in United States District Court on Nov. 18. Richardson was seeking an unspecified amount of expenses and costs incurred in connection with the defendants’ actions and declarations by the court in his favor, including an injunction prohibiting the defendants from suppressing his free speech. He demanded a jury trial.
In the lawsuit, Richardson alleged that an “overly broad” disparagement agreement that he entered into with the city violated the First Amendment. Richardson alleged he was required by the city to enter into the agreement when he resigned from his position in order to receive his severance pay. He also alleged that the defendants, in their capacity as city government employees, violated the First and 14th Amendments by allegedly engaging in viewpoint discrimination, which is the restriction of speech based on its content, and retaliating against Richardson based on the content of his speech.
Richardson, who now lives in Richmond, was appointed city manager in May 2019. He resigned from his post in September 2020. At the time, Richardson said he was leaving for personal reasons. He cited ongoing stress from the pandemic and protests after the death of George Floyd. According to a September 2020 City Council resolution, the decision was mutual.
The lawsuit alleged the city “acquiesced and terminated Dr. Richardson from office, effective immediately” soon after C-VILLE Weekly published an interview with Richardson where he reflected on his tenure and his decision to leave. The article was published Sept. 23, 2020, and Richardson’s last day was set for Sept. 30.
Richardson also alleged the city violated the Virginia state constitution and public policy with its non-disparagement clause that he said he was required by the city to sign in order to receive his severance pay. Richardson alleges Robertson rejected his claims that members of city government were disparaging him and violating the agreement. He also alleged Hill tried to have him removed from office, and accused Walker of disparagement for a now-removed interview in Vinegar Hill Magazine and for now-deleted comments she made on her personal Facebook page.
On Jan. 26, Robertson filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, alleging Richardson failed to state a claim as she did not personally deprive Richardson of his First Amendment rights. Robertson also said Richardson waived his claims against the city, as well as its employees and officials by signing the release and waiver of claims in exchange for a $205,000 severance.