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City attorney fired after filing EEOC complaint against judge

Jennifer Smith
jsmth@littletongazette.com
10/25/11

City council fired City Attorney Suzanne Staiert on the same day she filed a sexual-harrassment complaint against Municipal Judge James Anderson with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The complaint also alleged council retaliated against Staiert by hiring an attorney to investigate her after she reported the unwanted behavior to the city’s human-resources department.

According to city documents and Mayor Doug Clark’s handwritten notes, Staiert reported that Anderson gave her a gift certificate for a one-hour massage during the holidays and a necklace on Jan. 10, her birthday.

“When he gave her the necklace he asked her to try it on, and then told her as she put the necklace on that it was ‘unique like her,’” reads a memo written by Eric WonSavage, director of human resources. “The pendant was turned around and he reached out and turned it right, coming physically close to her and it made her feel uncomfortable, both the physical closeness of the event and the fact that he had put so much thought into the gift. I told Suzanne that it may be possible that he is just socially unaware, but that these types of gifts carry meaning and connotation to most people.”

That night, Anderson showed up at a planning-commission meeting Staiert was at, according to her report to WonSavage. Anderson said he’d been thinking about her because it was her birthday, she said, and asked if she’d like to get a drink. She said no and asked others to walk out of the meeting with her as a precaution.

She reported all this to the human-relations department on Jan. 11.

“[W]ith the visit at a meeting where he had no business purpose to be there, but had come to specifically see her, [it] appeared that this could be sexual harassment/harassment," wrote WonSavage. Further, that these events should be addressed so that these behaviors would stop.”

Staiert later returned the gifts, telling Anderson they weren’t appropriate and that they could not be friends so as not to give the appearance of impropriety.

On Feb. 7, Staiert reported that Anderson had stopped by her office unannounced and commented, in front of witnesses, on her attire: “Are you going for that naughty school-girl look?”

“I explained that I did not believe that she was clear or straight-forward enough,” wrote WonSavage when Staiert told him about that incident. “We discussed an approach, where I would coordinate and facilitate a meeting with her and Mr. Anderson.” He added that Anderson would be required to complete sexual-harassment training online.

WonSavage called Mayor Doug Clark to brief him on the situation, according to the Feb. 7 memo, and Clark was agreeable to the approach.

Jump ahead to June 26, when a report was issued by Littleton Alternative Dispute Resolution on an investigation into a gender-discrimination allegation against Anderson filed by another employee. The report references an “undisputed allegation that [Anderson] had given to [Staiert] a number of personal gifts which were far beyond and more intimate than what would be expected in a professional relationship.” Council as a whole would have reviewed that report.

Beginning July 5, council started having executive sessions nearly every meeting, even special meetings and district forums. Most of them were for the purpose of “personnel matters” and were amended onto the agenda during the meeting rather than posted publicly in advance, which the law requires if possible.

“As council agendas are finalized on Thursdays, well before meetings, executive sessions sometimes must be added later,” said Clark in an e-mail to LittletonGazette.com, which he signed on behalf of council.

Councilman Jose Trujillo alone voted against convening those meetings.

Staiert says she was not notified she was the topic of those meetings, as is required by law, except for one, when council gave her the opportunity to respond to the charges being leveled against her. She refused, she says, because the meeting was not being recorded, as is also required by law.

“All meetings that were required by law to be recorded were in fact recorded,” says Clark. (LittletonGazette.com has requested the release of those tapes.) Clark did not address Staiert’s allegation that she was not given the opportunity to have the discussions held publicly, which was her right and, she says, her preference. Clark cites attorney/client privilege and the confidentiality of executive sessions and deliberative processes.

“Further, the city does not comment on personnel matters,” he added.

On August 2, council hired Kris Kostolansky, an attorney who specializes in employment matters and charges $440 an hour. Council had paid him more than$17,000 as of Sept. 6 (we are awaiting updated figures). He often represents companies against claims such as Staiert’s.

“The city council retained the services of Mr. Kostolansky to advise the city council due to his expertise in employment law,” said Clark.

Kostolansky immediately began attending the executive sessions, which continued through Sept. 20, the night council voted to fire Staiert. Trujillo and Councilman Phil Cernanec dissented. (LittletonGazette.com reached out to both, with no response.)

On Oct. 18, council rescinded a policy regarding city-attorney employees that Staiert had implemented in 2008 at the suggestion of Mercer Group, the headhunting firm council used to find her and City Manager Michael Penny. They said the revision was unbeknownst to them and problematic, and that it gave Staiert too much authority over her employees and the hiring process. That’s been the only public explanation of her dismissal, other than the statement Mayor Pro Tem Brinkman read on Sept. 20.

Council is directly responsible for the hiring and firing of the city attorney and the municipal judges, as well as the city manager.

Anderson did not respond to a request for comment.

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Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, below is Mayor Doug Clark's entire e-mailed response to LittletonGazette.com's questions. Below that is our reply to him in its entirety. We did not receive further response,except a note from City Manager Michael Penny saying there is no council meeting tonight.

October 24, 2011
Jennifer,

The Littleton City Council received a list of very specific questions on October 21, 2011 regarding the employment of former City Attorney Suzanne Staiert.  As I'm sure you are aware, the majority of the questions you posed are protected
by attorney/client privilege, the executive session privilege, the deliberative process privilege or concern personnel
issues whose details cannot be disclosed.  Further, the city does not comment on personnel matters.

Concerning the questions that can be responded to, the city council retained the services of Mr. Kostolansky to advise
the city council due to his expertise in employment law.  All meetings that were required by law to be recorded were in
fact recorded.  As council agendas are finalized on Thursdays, well before meetings, executive sessions sometimes must
be added later.  Regarding the future structure of the city attorney's office, the new city council will discuss options at a
study session after the first of the year.

Finally, the questions regarding the Littleton Police Department are more appropriately addressed by the city manager. The charter provides that the city manager is responsible for the management of all city departments.  The city council's only direct reports are the city manager, city attorney and the judges.

Best regards,

Doug Clark
On behalf of the city council.

Thank you Doug -

Suzanne has expressed willingness to sign a waiver to have her records released, so I expect I will be following up.

In the meantime, I don't believe you addressed these:

Was Suzanne given the opportunity for the discussions surrounding her employment to be discussed publicly, as is her right? (Not really a personnel matter nor protected by the executive session. I'm just asking whether you followed the law.)

Was she notified that she was the subject of those sessions, as is required by law? (See above)

Why did Jose vote against every one of those meetings? (That's just an opinion)

If whatever you say Suzanne did was bad enough to get her fired, how come Phil and Jose voted against the motion to fire her? (See above)

If council had a problem with the policy revision you discussed last Tuesday, why didn't you address it immediately? (You already discussed the problem with the policy publicly. I'm just asking why you didn't address it when she changed it.)

Doug Clark knew about the "anonymous letter" regarding the PD before the holidays last year. When did the rest of council find out? (Not sure how that's personnel or protected by exec session. Just a timing question.)

How many EEOC complaints has the city had filed against it in the last four years? How many have you settled and how many have you lost? What's the total price tag? (That's public record. I'm  not asking for names or details, just how much taxpayer money you've spent on them.)

A further question would be how did Kostolosky know he was supposed to show up if you didn't know until the meeting that you were going to need him?

Also, regarding your comment the city does not comment on personnel matters: YOU are not "the city." You are an elected official who is supposed to be representing the interests of the rest of us citizens. That also applies to the PD questions. I'm asking my elected officials for their opinion on behalf of the public.

I have enough documentation, including some notes taken by you and HR memos - to put up a story tomorrow, which I intend to do before I leave for council tomorrow night.
UPDATED
10/28/11

City Manager Michael Penny has confirmed that the city has signed a settlement agreement with Suzanne Staiert. He has not yet said how much it was for.

Staiert said the terms of the settlement preclude her from discussing it.
UPDATED
11/2/11

We received the following statement from Kelli Narde, the city's director of communications, today:

"Ms.Staiert will be paid $143,000, with the city paying half and its self-insurance pool paying half.  While the city does not disclose information on personnel matters, the city strongly denies any wrongdoing with respect to Ms. Staiert. The amount paid to Ms. Staiert was based purely on a business decision made by the city and its self-insurance pool."

Former City Attorney Suzanne Staiert's salary ending salary was $134,000 a year.