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Lower Merion's Magerman sues hedge fund boss Mercer for wrongful firing on Trump comments

Did the billionaire boss "attempt to silence" his tech chief and "prevent him from" protected political speech?

David Magerman, the Merion Station-based data scientist, restaurateur (Dairy Cafe) and school donor, has sued his former boss, billionaire hedge-fund partner Robert Mercer, in federal court in Philadelphia, alleging Mercer had him fired for political reasons.

In his complaint, Magerman says Mercer had him dismissed, effective last week, from his job at Long Island-based Renaissance Technologies after Magerman went public, with the firm's permission, with his criticisms of Mercer's role in donating generously to the Donald Trump campaign.

Magerman also lambasted Mercer, the CEO of Renaissance, for helping get Breitbart News chief Stephen K. Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway, a South Jersey native, hired by President Trump, furthering what Magerman considered "racist" parts of the Trump agenda. Mercer is an investor in Breitbart.

Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesman for Renaissance, said the firm had no immediate comment.  Magerman is represented in his suit by lawyers H. Robert Fiebach, Jeffrey I. Pasek, and Thomas A. Leonard of Philadelphia law firm Cozen O'Connor. (Leonard's father, whose name is the same, is managing partner at the Obermayer law firm and a prominent Democratic fund-raiser.)

According to Magerman's lawsuit, he called Mercer in January about Mercer's support for Trump. The two men argued in a wide-ranging discussion about the impact of the Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and desegregation on African Americans, and about Trump's positions on health-care law and social programs. Magerman said he was "shocked" at Mercer's "racist" comments.

Magerman then sent a memo to other senior Renaissance officials, stating that Mercer and his politically active daughter Rebekah, in their "blatant support for the Trump candidacy, presidency and agenda, has cast a taint on all Renaissance employees," and that he and other employees should respond publicly.

Magerman also asked Renaissance officials how much he could say about Mercer's activities without risking "retaliation in the workplace." He says chief compliance officer Mark Silber responded that "the statements Magerman was intending to make were permissible under company policy."

Magerman says Mercer repeated his positions in a February follow-up conversation, at which Magerman also raised concerns that their firm didn't employ blacks in major jobs.

Magerman then talked to reporter Gregory Zuckerman at the Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit indicates. As he noted in the pleading, Magerman "criticized President Trump and Mercer's support for the president's agenda."

According to Magerman, before Zuckerman broke the story, a Renaissance representative "threatened to cut" Zuckerman off from further information about Renaissance if he reported Magerman's criticism. The firm's representative also "made a number of false accusations about Magerman," according to the suit, which did not provide specifics.

After the story ran on Feb. 24, Magerman was suspended without pay. Magerman alleges this "was ordered personally by Mercer and was in retaliation for Magerman's criticisms of Mercer's political activities."

Renaissance gave Magerman his back pay on March 30, but also locked him out of the company's computers, leaving him effectively suspended.

As the Journal later reported, Magerman was confronted by Rebekah Mercer at an April charity poker tournament in New York, and she told him he was "pond scum." On April 29, Renaissance fired Magerman "at the direction of Mercer and in further retaliation."

According to the lawsuit, Mercer "violated Magerman's civil rights by firing him for engaging in protected activity," and "attempted to silence Magerman and prevent him from speaking out on political issues" even after he was cleared by the firm's chief compliance officer to do so.

So Mercer effectively forced Magerman "to tacitly support, or at least condone, Mercer's publicly announced and very visible political views," according to the lawsuit.

Magerman is seeking compensatory damages over $150,000, plus additional damages and costs.  The lawsuit doesn't state what he earned at Renaissance, where he had worked for the last 22 years, except for a two-year hiatus. Magerman has said he donates around $10 million a year to his Koheleth foundation, which supports private Jewish schools, and to other charities.

The case, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is 17-2083