Lawsuit against Gibbons will proceed absent most claims

CARSON CITY — A judge has thrown out most claims against Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and his budget director filed by an auditor who alleges she was removed from her job because Gibbons believed she leaked information about personal messages sent from his state cell phone.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones dismissed Mary Keating’s claims alleging violations of free speech, due process, breach of contract and discharge protections and said claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress lack merit.

But Jones, in the order filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Reno, said Keating could pursue claims of defamation and invasion of privacy. He also left intact allegations that proper legal procedures weren’t followed before she was fired.

Keating, a certified public accountant who has worked for 26 years for the state, filed a federal lawsuit against Gibbons and Budget Director Andrew Clinger in 2008. The complaint alleges she was abruptly removed from her job as administrative services officer that May because Gibbons believed she leaked to the press details of more than 800 text messages he had sent on his state phone to a woman other than his wife.

Gibbons later apologized for the texting and said he repaid the state $130.

Keating said she was told she was being dismissed because she didn’t “get along.” The lawsuit said she was told she could resign or accept a temporary job in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as an alternative to being fired.

Keating later took a permanent job at the Department of Health and Human Services, and last year moved to the controller’s office.

Jones approved Keating’s motion to amend her lawsuit to add Gibbons’ former press secretary, Ben Kieckhefer, as a defendant. Keating alleges Gibbons, Clinger and Kieckhefer issued a false statement to the media in October 2008 when Gibbons’ office issued a press release saying the action taken against Keating was “work performance related.”

The judge said court rules apply an “extreme liberality standard,” requiring that motions seeking to amend a complaint be considered in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Kieckhefer now is public information officer for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Resources and is a state Senate candidate in Washoe County’s District 4.

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