Milpitas: Former Chamber CEO intends to sue group for wrongful termination

Mark Tiernan, the recently dismissed CEO of the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce, plans to sue the chamber for wrongful termination, his attorney announced Wednesday morning.

On Sept. 1, Tiernan was dismissed from his role as the top executive at the chamber following an Aug. 15 altercation with San Jose Councilman Tam Nguyen at a press conference for his friend, East Side Union High School District Trustee Van Le.

At the time, Milpitas Chamber of Commerce President Devora Lomas would not answer questions surrounding Tiernan’s termination, including why he was fired or who will take over in his absence.

Tiernan’s attorney, Susan Bishop with San Jose-based law firm Berliner Cohen LLP, said in a statement Wednesday that her client’s termination was “shameful.”

“Despite his countless hours dedicated to the chamber, Mr. Tiernan was advised, by way of a two-line letter on his desk, that he was either to resign or he would be terminated. No reason or explanation was provided. Although the chamber did not make time to have a face-to-face meeting before terminating Mr. Tiernan, several sources told the media of the chamber’s decision even before Mr. Tiernan received the letter,” Bishop said in her statement.

Bishop said they will be filing a lawsuit against the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce “shortly” on the basis that Tiernan was “wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy and that he was improperly classified as an independent contractor when in fact he was an employee of the Chamber of Commerce, resulting in a failure to properly pay Mr. Tiernan.”

Bishop said the gist of the lawsuit was that Tiernan was terminated for engaging in “legally protected activities, including but not limited to political activities and for reporting possible financial mismanagement, including a $17,000 discrepancy in the chamber financial statements, and a grossly negligent system of vendor management that he believed put the chamber and its members at risk.”

Bishop said they had tried to work with the chamber without publicizing their efforts, but said the chamber’s failure to respond in a timely manner shows they are not interested in an informal resolution.

On Monday, Lomas said the chamber had no comment about demands or discussions with Tiernan.

Tiernan previously stated he was not at the Aug. 15 press conference in any capacity for the chamber, and instead appeared as a friend to Le. Tiernan was seen standing in front of Nguyen, Le’s political rival, who stood with a sign behind Le while she was speaking.

At the press conference, Tiernan is seen in footage moving in front of Nguyen, who moved behind Le with his signs. What happened next might be described by some as a he said-he said situation. Tiernan says Nguyen hit him in the head with his sign, while Nguyen says Tiernan pushed and shoved him out of the way.

Tiernan asserts that he’d asked Nguyen before the press conference to not disturb the event. Tiernan says Nguyen had agreed, but once the press conference started Nguyen stood behind Le in full view of news cameras.

“He was invading her personal space and was being extremely disruptive, he was trying to shout her down and bully her and that is not an acceptable way elected officials should comport themselves,” Tiernan told this newspaper previously.