A former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and former Santa Barbara County supervisor has accused four former U.S. government officials of defamation following his firing in February 2020, according to a Jan. 27 lawsuit.
Michael Stoker, former administrator for EPA's Region 9, claims the defamatory remarks reported by various news organizations damaged his reputation, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He is seeking a jury trial, court costs and more than $75,000 in damages.
The EPA officials who are accused include Andrew Wheeler, former administrator; Doug Benevento, former deputy administrator; Corry Schiermeyer, former associate administrator for public affairs; and Ryan Jackson, former chief of staff.
Attorneys for the defendants were not listed in the lawsuit at press time, but they have at least 21 days to respond to the claims, according to court records.
"Several news agencies made reports that damaged plaintiff Stoker’s reputation, presented him in a false light that resulted in disparaging his good name and reputation, and caused him emotional distress and economic loss," according to the lawsuit, adding that the statements were "intended to harm" Stoker.
A Santa Maria couple that runs a family care center has sued Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services for placing a foster child into their home who had been accused of sexually assaulting other children, according to a lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles federal court.
Stoker was appointed as the EPA's Region 9 administrator, which covers the Pacific Southwest region and includes Santa Barbara County, in May 2018 by Scott Pruitt, who resigned as the EPA administrator in July 2018 and was replaced by Wheeler.
Stoker's job required frequent travel, which was later cited in press reports as the reason he was fired, although Stoker allegedly never received a formal explanation directly from his superiors.
On Feb. 5, 2020, Benevento and Jackson called Stoker on the phone and terminated his employment with the agency. When Stoker asked for a reason, the response included a long silent pause followed by, "this wasn't personal," according to the lawsuit.
Then on Feb. 6, EPA leadership publicly remarked that Stoker was fired because of his travel activities, which he maintained were preapproved by the EPA's Travel Office in Cincinnati, according to the lawsuit.
"Mike was too interested in travel for the sake of travel and ignored necessary decision-making required," according to the lawsuit, which cited public remarks by EPA leadership. "Stoker's excuses and stories are simply all made up and we cannot allow them to go without a response."
Additionally, Stoker accused the defendants of preparing the alleged disparaging statements in advance of his firing.
Prior to Stoker's firing, defendant Jackson repeated public remarks that he had no issue with Stoker regarding travel and that his work was "very portable," according to the lawsuit.
Hours before the defendants made their remarks about Stoker's firing, a reporter with a national publication asked EPA spokesman Michael Abboud whether Stoker's travel had anything to do with his termination, according to the lawsuit.
"Absolutely not," Abboud responded.