The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California)
BYLINE: By, Xochitl Pena
INDIO – Two former employees are suing the city of Indio for wrongful termination based on gender discrimination and violation of public policy.
Tara Adams, former assistant city manager, claims unequal pay because she is female, while Regina Hawkins, a former human resources coordinator, contends she was fired without cause.
City officials declined to comment on the lawsuits – both of which City Council discussed earlier this month in closed session.
“The city does not comment on personnel matters nor items pertaining to pending litigation,” said Chris Escobedo, spokesman for the city.
Adams is asking for $290,000 in damages, including loss of future earnings and benefits and medical bills. That figure could grow to more than $1 million, however, depending on how long the litigation drags out, said her attorney, Brad Gage.
“Our position is that she was wrongfully terminated and a victim of discrimination and retaliation,” he said.
Hawkins is seeking damages as well, but a monetary total is not listed in her May 2 lawsuit.
She claims the city violated public policy and inflicted emotional distress and did not give her the opportunity to challenge her dismissal through a sufficient “Skelly Hearing.”
Hawkins was hired in 1999 and when she was let go on June 30, 2011, she was a human resources coordinator.
Adams started with the city in 2009 as a contract employee to help with union negotiations but was eventually hired as assistant city manager.
She was named interim city manager in April 2010 when former City Manager Glenn Southard retired. She was let go in June 2011.
In addition to gender discrimination, Adams’ lawsuit filed Dec. 30, contends retaliation for undertaking an investigation into a sexual and racial harassment case by city personnel, retaliation for being a whistleblower and failure by the city to take corrective action.
In regards to her discrimination claim, Adams says she was not paid properly when she took on the duties of interim city manager after the former city manager retired.
She contends per city personnel rules she should have received a minimum 5 percent pay increase for working out of class, but was instead asked by then Councilman Glenn Miller to take a 10 percent salary decrease
“While the City Council eventually relented and gave Adams a 10 percent increase within the assistant city manager salary range, Adams continued to earn less than her male subordinates,” the lawsuit reads.
The pay raise was approved by City Council in May 2010 in a 4-1 vote and boosted her salary by about $20,000. It was a controversial vote at a time met with disapproval from residents because the city was facing financial hardships.
The city had also been under fire for paying its former city manager and top administrators excessive salaries.
Miller said it would be inappropriate to comment on details of pending litigation.
“That said, it is important for you to know that the allegations in those complaints are simply that – allegations,” he said via email.
“Without discussing the merit of the cases, the city takes seriously its role as a public employer of both men and women. We strongly adhere to the principles of workplace equality. As a matter of policy, the City forbids discrimination in its workplace in any form and will continue to do so,” he added.
At the time of Adam’s pay raise, Miller was vocal about not supporting it.
“I respect everything Mrs. Adams has done, but I can’t justify a pay increase when we’re laying people off and have millions of dollars of debt,” he said at the time.
Adam’s lawsuit also alleges that Miller and Councilman Mike Wilson were instrumental in her termination for separate reasons.
The lawsuit claims that Miller “targeted Adams” for her role in the 2010 investigation of the employee harassment case.
Details on the sexual and harassment case are not included in the lawsuit.
Adams contends that “Wilson pushed aggressively for Adam’s termination,” after a benefits request was denied.
Adams said Wilson asked her in 2010 for retroactive compensation of retirement benefits for his prior council service.
Adams said she consulted with PERS and confirmed such compensation was unlawful. She said Wilson demanded the payment and then retaliated against her for her refusal once he rejoined the City Council.
Like Miller, Wilson declined to comment on the pending litigation but did say the series of events relating to him did not occur in that manner.
A conference hearing for Adams’ case is scheduled for Oct. 26.
“I think we’re going to show that what the city did to my client was outrageous, improper, illegal and despicable,” Gage said. “In the depositions we have taken so far, it does not appear that the city had good cause or justification to fire her,” he said.
A case management conference hearing on Hawkin’s lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 30.
In her lawsuit, Hawkins states she was let go based on the “false charge” that she had lied about providing assistance to four police officers, one of whom was her husband, during her workday.
Hawkins said she used her computer to help the four officers on a project and was forthcoming about her help when she met with Adams on the matter. Adams as assistant city manager was in charge of human resources.
Hawkins contends she was shocked to receive a notice on Oct. 18, 2010, that she was being terminated for not being honest to Adams about the assistance she provided to the officers.
She also claims that additional allegations of misconduct that surfaced during a subsequent investigation were only to bolster the city’s decision to fire her. Details of the misconduct were not included in the lawsuit.
Hawkins could not be reached for comment.
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