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Veteran city employee sues St. Pete, Bill Foster over ouster, despite promise of ‘job safety’

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Shrimatee Ojah-Maharaj

A one-time head of the city of St. Petersburg Business Assistance Center is suing former Mayor Bill Foster and staff members for her ouster, despite promises of “job safety.”

Shrimatee Ojah-Maharaj is a 60-year-old St. Petersburg resident who has worked for the City of St. Petersburg since 1990, with a current title of Grants Officer. She began her career with the city under former two-term Mayor Rick Baker.

From 2003 to mid-2013, Ojah-Maharaj managed the city’s Business Assistance Center, which – according to her BAC profile – offered “counseling, access to financial assistance, contracting, technical assistance, mentoring and training to businesses,” with a special focus on St. Pete’s Midtown region.

Foster is the former St. Pete City councilmember who served as mayor from 2010 to 2014. The 54-year-old is now a partner with the Foster & Foster law firm.

In a lawsuit filed June 20 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Ojah-Maharaj claims she was told she had “job safety” when Foster succeeded Baker.

But those assurances didn’t prevent her from being moved to a new position with the city, apparently one with lesser salary and prestige, although the suit, filed without the benefit of an attorney, doesn’t specify if that is indeed the case.

Ojah-Maharaj says members of the Foster administration knew about her pending removal as BAC manager, but said otherwise to keep her from seeking or taking a job elsewhere. She also accuses the administration of making false statements both in internal and external publications.

While she is listed as an employee of St. Petersburg, Ojah-Maharaj is suing the city and several top officials with the Foster administration for breach of implied contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, fraudulent concealment, negligent concealment, hostile work environment, retaliation, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

She also says the city’s actions humiliated her, damaged her reputation and cost her money.

While the lawsuit does not describe the circumstances surrounding Ojah-Maharaj’s removal as BAC manager, a Tampa Bay Business Journal article in 2013 did outline plans by then-mayor Foster to replace the Business Assistance Center with a new model called “The Greenhouse.”

The Journal article discussed a memorandum which said restructuring would “eliminate” the management position held by Ojah-Maharaj, “as well as impact a few marketing and communications positions.”

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