Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration terminated a former Health and Human Services Department employee for allegedly supporting the mayor’s opponent, claims a lawsuit filed in federal court last Wednesday.
Omar Ledesma, who worked as an inspector in the department, claims he was fired for publicly supporting councilman Alex Mendez. His lawsuit names Sayegh, former councilman William McKoy, and former health and human services director Oshin Castillo-Cruz.
Ledesma’s lawsuit states the Sayegh administration violated his rights to freedom of speech, association, and political beliefs.
Ledesma was hired as a license inspector in September 2018. He was terminated on November 5, 2020. His lawsuit states he became concerned after Sayegh picked Castillo to run the department in August 2019.
He began “fearing for his job” after Castillo was picked, his lawsuit says.
“Upon taking her position, it was evident that Ms. Oshin took immediate steps to harass Mr. Ledesma due to his prior political position and support of Mr. Mendez and other Board of Education candidates and because he had opposed her position (and the Mayor’s),” reads the lawsuit.
Ledesma worked to support a slate of Board of Education candidates put up by Mendez. These candidates ran against Castillo and her group.
Castillo allegedly took his work cellphone and started to harass him “daily,” says the lawsuit.
Ledesma was briefly fired for abandoning his position. He went to the Dominican Republic on December 23, 2019. He got into a motorcycle accident on January 4, 2020 and was hospitalized. He was scheduled to report to work on January 6, 2020. His family notified the city about the accident, according to the lawsuit, but he was still fired on January 14, 2020 for “job abandonment.”
Ledesma challenged the firing and was reinstated in February 2020.
His lawsuit also mentions a peculiar text message exchange with Sayegh.
On May 20, 2019, Ledesma was in New York City with Mendez. Both men attended a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization.
Ledesma and Mendez posed for photos. He posted the pictures on his Facebook page. Within minutes of posting the pictures, Ledesma received a text message from Sayegh, according to the lawsuit.
Sayegh’s text message contained a photo of Ledesma and Mendez from the event, but no actual text, according to the lawsuit.
Ledesma replied to Sayegh, “whats up Mayor?”
“Did you send me that pic,” replied Sayegh.
“No, you sent it to me,” answered Ledesma.
“I just received it from a number I don’t recognize,” read a text from Sayegh, according to the lawsuit.
Ledesma questioned whether the image was sent to harass him, says the lawsuit. Ledesma told Sayegh he was fully loyal to Mendez and was supporting him in the 3rd Ward against McKoy.
“No need to explain,” another text from Sayegh read. He also told Ledesma he was not after him, but that someone else was trying to “undermine” Ledesma, says the lawsuit.
In October 2020, Ledesma distributed a video called “A Reminder from Andre Sayegh,” a clip from a 2018 mayoral race debate, where Sayegh viciously attacks his then-opponent McKoy. Sayegh and McKoy later became political allies.
McKoy allegedly confronted Ledesma over the negative video, according to the lawsuit. During the same month, Ledesma was campaigning for Mendez in the 3rd Ward during his free time, but his vehicle had a city-issued placard that implied he was on municipal business.
Ledesma claims McKoy and his allies were harassing him for campaigning for Mendez. He had to file a harassment report with police against McKoy, his wife, and activist Ernest Rucker in November 2020.
In early November, Castillo fired Ledesma from his health job. His lawsuit suggests the city-issued placard was part of the reason for termination.
“Mr. Ledesma was advised that he was being terminated because he was a provisional employee, who did not possess job protections,” reads the lawsuit.
Ledesma is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.