BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Nate McMurray, the 27th District Congressional candidate, is suing his former employer for retaliation, alleging Delaware North wrongfully altered the terms of his employment because of his political activities.
The family of McMurray’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs, owns Delaware North, which employs some 55,000 people.
McMurray was hired by Delaware North in 2014. His role was community engagement.
“McMurray’s ability to engage with the community was a specific skill for which he was hired by Delaware North and McMurray has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the company,” his lawsuit contends.
McMurray’s lawsuit states the company encouraged and supported his campaign for Grand Island supervisor in 2015. He remained employed and said he got good performance reviews while he campaigned.
In 2018, McMurray challenged 27th Congressional District incumbent Chris Collins, who was under indictment. Delaware North continued to employ McMurray during that campaign.
“In fact, Delaware North encouraged McMurray in his 2018 Congressional run against Chris Collins,” states his lawsuit filed in Erie County Supreme Court.
McMurray alleges that Delaware North’s leadership, including Lou Jacobs, Jeremy Jacobs, Jr., Rick Abramson, Christopher Feeney, Richard Aryson, and Maureen Sweeny, “expressed support for his continued community involvement and political engagement, including the 2020 race for Congress.”
In May 2019, Chris Jacobs announced his run for Congress in the same 27th District. McMurray officially announced his run that August. Collins resigned in September, creating the need for a special election.
“In October 2019, Delaware North human resources employee Eileen Morgan held a meeting with McMurray regarding his involvement in politics and how it may “clash” with the involvement of Chris Jacobs in the race,” his lawsuit states.
McMurray said the meeting was tense and ended without resolution.
“On the same day in October 2019, Delaware North employee and co-worker Julie Thomas reported to McMurray that Delaware North supervisor Richard Aryson had spoken to her about a promotion and attempted to pressure her into reporting that McMurray had “bullied” her,” his lawsuit alleges.
McMurray said he confronted Aryson, who he said denied the chain of events as were described to him.
On Oct. 19, McMurray said he was called into an urgent meeting with the vice president and chief develop officers to discuss “his political disruptions.”
“During the meeting with Maureen Sweeny and McMurray, Sweeny conceded McMurray’s performance had remained excellent but this was “how the game was played” or words to that effect,” the lawsuit contends.
“During the meeting with Maureen Sweeny and McMurray, Sweeny refused to discuss any potential political conflict with Chris Jacobs, despite calling the meeting to discuss McMurray’s alleged political disruptions.”
It was at this meeting where McMurray says he was told that his political activity could harm the company because of his relationships with so many of their customers. McMurray said he asked why none of this concern was brought up in his prior run for Congress or his Grand Island race.
McMurray also alleged that Delaware North Security harassed and mocked him about his political efforts.
After both the incumbent and challenge earned the endorsements of their parties, McMurray was again called into a meeting in February to discuss the “unique” nature of the situation.
McMurray said he was assured he would receive his annual performance bonus, but he requested they put the assurance in writing.
Two days later, McMurray said he was emailed materials for unpaid “Extraordinary Leave” from human resources. He said he was compelled to use his vacation time and then revert to unpaid time off.
McMurray objected to no effect and he was played on leave just prior to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down businesses across the country. McMurray said his superiors told him his prior political activity was not precedent.
McMurray said he was promised his benefits and bonus in February. He conceded to the offer of unpaid leave but left a long message with the company:
“I disagree with your previous comment that no precedent has been created. I have never been asked to completely forfeit my pay or any other employment benefit because of my political speech.
“Again, I ran a town with hundreds of employees and a 20 plus million dollar budget—there was no internal resistance, and my performance remained high. In fact, the members of the company’s current and previous leadership encouraged me to run for various positions; indeed such encouragement is public, widely documented and gave me great motivation. Further, other members of our company hold elected office and/or high profile community leadership positions. None of them have ever had to forfeit pay or benefits (or been excluded from communications) to the best of my knowledge. I must therefore say to you straightforwardly and with due consideration that, whether intentionally or not, I feel that conditions have been altered because of the nature this particular campaign.”
McMurray also contends that an employee who defended his work, Richard Aryson, was also later laid off a month later. Sweeney was also fired.
Why? McMurray contends it was because of “their failure to handle the McMurray situation.”
In April, McMurray said he was informed by Delaware North that his employment situation would change to leave of absence to a temporary business disruption due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
McMurray said he has received no pay from the company since April 28 and he has not received his health benefits since June 30.
“At the time McMurray was placed on the alleged “business disruption” leave, McMurray’s base salary was approximately $168,000 annually with annual performance bonuses and benefits,” the lawsuit states.
McMurray alleges that Delaware North’s government affairs employee emailed him in June to encourage him to drop out of the race against Chris Jacobs and run for the 60th District. McMurray said other executives and a lobbyist at Delaware North also tried to get him to run for the 60th District back in 2018.
McMurray also claims that Delaware North created a political action committee to collect donations from employees and that those who donated were not subjected to any layoffs.
McMurray remains unemployed.
Delaware North could not immediately be reached for comment.