A former executive at the agency that oversees the $6 billion Dulles Rail project is suing the agency for defamation and seeking $10 million in damages.
George Ellis, a former vice president at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, is suing his old bosses for telling a federal inspector general that Ellis had been fired, when, according to a settlement Ellis reached with the authority, he actually retired with benefits.
The inspector general mentioned Ellis in a wide-ranging report on the authority that detailed bungled contracts and ethical lapses. Ellis and his staff accepted tickets to the Super Bowl, golf tournaments and other events -- gifts totaling at least $12,000 over four years -- from authority contractors.
But Ellis claims in his lawsuit that he had not violated the authority's ethics code at the time because the old rules allowed employees to accept gifts at events sponsored by authority contractors.
"We believe George was made a scapegoat for the dysfunction of management and held out to deflect the criticism that has fallen on the authority," said Ellis' lawyer, Geoff Gitner.
Airports authority Executive Vice President and COO Margaret McKeough and its new president, Jack Potter, asked the court to dismiss Ellis' claim in February, the lawsuit alleges, citing the gifts he took as long ago as six years before.
Ellis fought an attempt to fire him but ultimately agreed to retire with full benefits, even though he felt that McKeough held a grudge against him. Ellis, who is black, also says in the lawsuit that McKeough wanted to "clean house" by removing "African-American managers" from the airports authority.
"For three years nobody raised an eyebrow at [the gifts] until new management came in and until new management came under new scrutiny from the inspector general's office," Gitner said.
Ellis had been offered a job with the city of Albany, N.Y., but the offer was rescinded after officials there learned of the inspector general's report.
"When they reported to the press that George had been fired, we believe that this constitutes defamation, and we believe that this defamation cost George his reputation and career," Gitner said.
The airports authority runs Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports, the Dulles Toll Road and the construction of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project. It has been under close scrutiny for months from local and federal officials for ethical lapses and contracting failures. The airports authority passed new ethics and travel policies in the fall and is now revising its contracting manual.
An airports authority spokeswoman said the group does not comment on pending litigation.