Wednesday, March 21, 2012

River Laker Fights Back: Files Grievance, Goes to Court

River Laker (right) and his mouthpiece, Melvin Williams
River Laker, the sometimes controversial, always-entertaining Roanoke City library employee who got in trouble about a year ago for dropping trou at a fund-raising event, is fighting the city over a grievance he filed recently.

River, whose British sense of humor is sometimes at odds with conservative Roanoke, was rebuked for taking off his clothes at a singles fundraiser. Riv says he was protesting the meat market approach. I never heard that before today, but I'll take River's word for it until something else comes along.
Anyhow, he has hired a lawyer named Melvin Williams and Williams has hit the PR circuit, providing the narrative below and the photo with this post. Here's what Mel has to say (I'm waiting to hear from the city, which I suspect will not comment): 

River Laker has requested that the Circuit Court for the City of Roanoke determine the grievability of his grievance concerning retaliation by the City against him in his employment as a result of his exercise of free speech at the Valentini Bachelor and Bachelorette event sponsored by The Square Society at 202 Market on February 4, 2011.

As you know, Mr. Laker was a participant in the event by invitation from The Square Society.Mr. Laker used the opportunity to protest against the event: while being auctioned he disrobed but for a strategically-placed bicycle helmet. (Contrary to media characterizations, the act was not a “striptease”.)

Mr. Laker objected to the event because it demeans people and places a value on how provocatively the participant performs at the auction.The event has now been dropped from The Square Society’s annual fundraising events.

Mr. Laker is an employee of the Roanoke Public Libraries. Despite the City publicly stating that Mr. Laker’s protest was on his personal time and was not something that it could comment on, since the event the City has targeted and severely restricted him in his employment in retaliation for what he did on his own time on private property. This treatment culminated in January 2012 when the Director of Libraries issued a Written Reprimand to Mr. Laker accusing him of insubordination.

Mr. Laker had never before received any type of disciplinary action in his employment with the Roanoke Public Libraries.He vehemently denied the allegation in the Written Reprimand and filed a grievance.Instead of addressing the merits of Mr. Laker’s grievance though, the City only broadened the allegations of misconduct from that set forth in the initial Written Reprimand.

The Written Reprimand is merely the next step in a pattern of retaliatory conduct visited upon Mr. Laker by the City because of his 202 Market protest. Therefore, his grievance seeks to address all of the various ways that he has been targeted.The City has refused to address all retaliatory conduct except the Written Reprimand, which ignores the ongoing pattern of conduct and focuses only on the incidents individually. Consequently, Mr. Laker has appealed to the Circuit Court for a determination of whether he can grieve the entire course of conduct.

A hearing has yet to be scheduled on the matter, but we anticipate that the hearing should occur within the next few weeks.

Stay tuned for the entertainment value, if nothing else.


  1. The City administration and particularly the Director of Libraries are missing a great opportunity by not recognizing the boon that River has been to our historically stoic community. Roanoke lost it's wild west moniker in the earliest part of the 20th century, and River has been trying to bring it back.

    Carry on with my full and unwavering support, River.

  2. Dan,
    Keep us posted. I'm sure many of us would like to pack the Court room.

  3. River is a breath of fresh air. I assume he is behind all the very creative and interesting events the library hosts. Society tends to want to force a round peg into a square hole. River is anything but square. I enjoy his sense of humor and hope the City chooses to let him be. He's an asset to the community.

  4. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Williams' first sentence: "River Laker has requested that the Circuit Court for the City of Roanoke determine the grievability of his grievance . . ." How grievable is a grievance if a grievance could be grieved?
    -- and I have a grievance against your reply mechanism which grieved so grievously over my URL (which I--grievously-- seem to have forgotten)that it wouldn't let me post under my own name.

  5. And so I have become Anonymous!

  6. Anon (John): Just put your name with the post. Easy to do. And stop grieving.

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