Kristin Collins, News & Observer (Raleigh), July 22, 2009
The state must rehire a Division of Motor Vehicles examiner who was fired after complaining that illegal immigrants might be getting licenses in violation of state law, a Wake County judge ruled Tuesday.
Jeffrey M. Brown, who issued driver licenses in a New Bern DMV office from July 2006 to April 2007, will get about $70,000 in back pay and the right to return to his job after winning a civil lawsuit against the state. Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning said Brown was entitled to protection under the state Whistleblower Act.
Brown, of Trenton, sued the state in September 2007. At that time, the DMV’s policy allowed some immigrants with temporary work visas to renew licenses for 4 or 8 years. That meant that their legal status in the country might expire before their licenses did, and it conflicted with a state law that said licenses should expire at the same time as visas. The problem did not affect new licenses, because they required more documentation.
State law has since tightened further, and the DMV has changed its policy to ensure that immigrant licenses expire at the same time as their legal visas. Illegal immigrants no longer have any avenue to get licenses in North Carolina.
“I was being forced to give licenses to illegals,” Brown said after the ruling. His supervisors “specifically told me, ‘Keep your mouth shut and keep issuing these licenses.'”
DMV officials testified that they were doing their best to comply with a law that, at the time, was in flux. They said their policy was to treat equally all those who presented a Social Security card, whether temporary or permanent.
“We could not discriminate,” said Dolphus Marshburn, Brown’s supervisor.
But they said Brown’s firing had nothing to do with his complaints about DMV policy. They said Brown was a problem employee with negative attitudes about immigrants.
In his notice of termination, DMV supervisors cited three incidents that led to his firing. In one, he became angry when he didn’t get requested vacation time. The other two involved immigrants.
In the first, his “suspicious” feeling led him to call the U.S. State Department to check a Middle Eastern man’s visa. The man was handcuffed and detained until it was determined that his visa was legal. In another, Brown told a co-worker that he suspected a different Middle Eastern man of being a terrorist and made negative comments about Muslims, the letter says.