Ex-clerk of courts worker can talk about Aftab Pureval as lawsuit proceeds

Ex-clerk of courts worker can talk about Aftab Pureval as lawsuit proceeds
Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval and Brittney Heitman (Photos: Provided)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - An ex-employee of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts who sued her former boss, Aftab Pureval, over a non-disclosure agreement, can now talk about him, her attorney said Tuesday.

Pureval agreed to drop a non-disparagement clause in the contract that forced Brittney Heitman to stay quiet since she signed the agreement in early 2017 when her position was terminated along with several of her co-workers as the Democrat took office.

Heitman sued her former boss in August, alleging breach of contract and money loss.

She asked a judge to toss out the contract she signed in early 2017 that terminated her employment along with 12 other longtime clerk of court employees and required them to stay quiet.

Another 12 workers resigned, starting in late 2016 after Aftab won the election to become the county’s first Democratic Clerk of Courts in more than 100 years.

Her suit contends Pureval broke the agreement by making disparaging comments about her, claiming in media interviews that he was ridding the courthouse of political patronage and “make work” jobs.

She also claims the agreement isn’t legal or enforceable and violates her constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed as Pureval was in the middle of a hotly contested race with longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Congressman Steve Chabot.

Pureval’s lawyer sought to move the lawsuit from Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to federal court from Judge Robert Ruehlman to a federal judge, Susan Dlott.

That legal tactic essentially stalled the case until the election while Dlott took weeks to consider whether federal court was the appropriate jurisdiction for the case.

Shortly after the election earlier this month, Dlott, decided the lawsuit was more appropriate for common pleas court.

So it returned to Ruehlman’s docket Monday.

Next in the case, a judge is expected to rule soon if the agreement is legal and binding.

If it gets tossed out, it’s not clear how county leaders will handle rectifying the severance payments Heitman received.

And her case could potentially set the legal precedent for her other co-workers who signed similar agreements on the conditions of receiving their severances.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters was not available to discuss the case Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman for his office.

The prosecutor’s office is the attorney for the county and its clerk of courts.

However, when it came to helping Pureval execute the non-disclosure statements, they were not consulted or involved, said Julie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

Heitman and the other 12 workers were terminated with non-disclosure agreements at a cost of $116,504.12 to the clerk’s office, according to Chris Wagner, chief of compliance for the clerk’s office.

She signed a non-disclosure days after she was officially notified of her termination. It required her to waive her right to sue the clerk of courts in exchange for receiving a severance package of $4,808.26, according to her suit.

“My understanding from a conversation with the prosecutor’s office is that it is not clear whether the County Commissioners have been presented with a proposal to ratify the payments, but the prosecutor’s office has suggested that they might be open to something to protect Miss Heitman. The prosecutor’s office has been vague as to how they propose to protect Miss Heitman.”

Pureval as an individual is being represented in the lawsuit by a private attorney, Paul DeMarco, and as the clerk of court by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office.

DeMarco did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Pureval received pro bono legal services on the agreements by attorneys with the private law firm, Freking Myers & Reul, FOX19 NOW has confirmed.

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