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October 7, 2022

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the governor :

Suit links Gibbons to agency chief’s firing

Audit department head claims retaliation for perceived leak of governor’s prolific text messaging


nevada appeal file

A spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons denies the governor had anything to do with Mary Keating’s dismissal in May.

A high-ranking state employee claims she was fired in retaliation for exposing the hundreds of text messages that Gov. Jim Gibbons sent to a female friend using his state cell phone, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

Mary Keating’s termination from her job as head of the division that audits the governor’s office was “a means to retaliate for the reporting of unethical and illegal conduct,” according to the Washoe County District Court filing. Her firing has had a “chilling” effect on state employees who want to expose wrongdoing by Gibbons and his administration, according to the lawsuit.

The 18-count suit, seeking unspecified damages of more than $10,000 and her reinstatement, names Gibbons and Andrew Clinger, the governor’s budget director and Keating’s former boss.

Keating’s attorney is Cal Dunlap, who also represents first lady Dawn Gibbons in her pending divorce from the governor.

Keating, 48, of Carson City, was fired by Clinger in May. She took a temporary job with the state Conservation and Natural Resources Department and currently has a permanent job in the Health and Human Services Department.

The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported in June that Gibbons had exchanged 867 text messages in March and April 2007 with the estranged wife of a Reno doctor. The story originated with the newspaper’s public information request.

Keating, in the lawsuit, claims she “has been informed by an individual close to defendant Gibbons’ administration that her termination was a result of defendant Gibbons’ belief that plaintiff Keating had spoken to the press.”

According to the lawsuit, a person working under Keating brought the governor’s text messaging bill to Keating’s attention in March and April of 2007. Keating notified Clinger, who notified the governor’s office. The lawsuit does not address whether Keating leaked the information to the Gazette-Journal.

Dunlap would not reveal the name of Keating’s administration source. Keating did not respond to requests for comment.

Ben Kieckhefer, the governor’s spokesman, said Keating’s bringing to the attention of the administration the governor’s text messages had nothing to do with her firing. He called it “a good job on her part.”

“The governor wouldn’t recognize Mary Keating if she was sitting right here,” he said. “In no way did a request to remove her come from the governor’s office.”

He said he didn’t know whether the public information request that revealed the text messages was the result of a leak, but said he doubted it. He said the story was likely the result of good journalism.

“My instinct tells me Anjeanette Damon is a ... good reporter,” he said of the Gazette-Journal reporter who broke the text-messaging story. “I think she was honestly surprised to see” the text messages on the governor’s phone bill.

The lawsuit said Keating “had raised a number of issues relating to the Gibbons administration and defendant Gibbons’ expenditure” before being fired. Gibbons, according to the lawsuit, had requested that Keating stop auditing his office and staff, “having her, instead, train his own untrained and unqualified staff to audit him, his administration and themselves.”

Kieckhefer said the governor did not request her removal, and another auditor with the Department of Administration is overseeing the governor’s office.

Clinger said the dismissal was “work-performance related. I don’t want to get into specifics of why. It’s definitely not anything to do with the reasons she’s alleging.”

The lawsuit claims that Clinger also wanted her fired because Keating had complained “of his improper sexually oriented conduct with his wife while on state premises” around March 2006.

Clinger said the incident refers to a time when his wife was sitting on his lap in his office. “One of Mary Keating’s employees walked in unannounced while my wife was there sitting on my lap and my wife stood up.”

He said that he met with Keating after hearing complaints in the office.

“I called Mary in, and just asked her about it. She really downplayed it, said it was no big deal,” he said.

Dunlap would not elaborate on the “sexually oriented” conduct referenced in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Keating suffered “great mental anguish, extreme damage to her career and professional reputation and other damages.”

When she was fired, she said she was shocked. She had been a state employee for 25 years without any disciplinary action. She was told to clear out her office immediately and turn in her key.

Keating described sobbing in her car and getting physically ill the weekend after she was fired.

Kieckhefer said, Keating “has never lost a day’s pay, never lost a day of benefits” as a result of her dismissal.

When asked whether it was a conflict of interest for him to represent Dawn Gibbons and Keating, Dunlap said: “Arguably, it is. But any conflict has been cleared with both of them.”

The Keating lawsuit makes frequent mention of the impending divorce and Gibbons’ involvement with women other than his wife.

Kieckhefer said he couldn’t speculate about the motive behind the lawsuit. He did say, though, “There was an offer to sit down and mediate. It was refused unless the governor personally participated, which is so far outside the bounds of normal.”

Keating, a classified employee, argued that she should not have been fired without good cause and without a hearing.

Clinger said state law allows the director of the Administration Department to fire at will employees working in the position that Keating filled.

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