The city of Newberg's internal administrative problems surfaced once again last week after it was revealed that human resources director Anna Lee had been placed on paid leave by Interim City Manager David Clyne.
The move was not voluntary, according to her counsel, Portland attorney Dan DiCicco, who claims Clyne asked Lee to resign in late September after she "filed claims of harassment and retaliation against several high-ranking officials in the city government …"
Those officials include Newberg-Dundee Police Chief Brian Casey and Capt. Jeff Kosmicki, as well as IT director David Brooks. Lee approached former city manager Joe Hannan with claims of defamation and harassment against the trio over the course of more than a year. Although Hannan, who retired from the post in July, researched the claims, he took no action.
Clyne said it was his decision alone to place Lee on leave, adding that under the city charter the city council "has no role in determining whether or not an employee (other than the city manager, city attorney or judge) may be on paid leave."
DiCicco told the Oregonian that he believed Lee was being blamed for a settlement against the city in a lawsuit filed by Gregg Patton, an African-American man who claimed he was racially discriminated against by the city when he applied for a position as assistant human resources director. It was revealed during the court case that a hiring committee gave another applicant a higher initial score than Patton and that the woman eventually hired for the position, Jennifer Ortiz, was a friend of Lee's who is no longer with the city. Claims from within and outside city government were that Lee altered documents to cover up hiring Ortiz over Patton, as well as faking a break-in of her office as part of the alleged cover-up.
The settlement was for $250,000, with the city responsible for $10,000 of that figure and its insurance carrier the rest.
Clyne declined comment on a number of other questions, including the grounds for Lee being placed on leave, whether she will return to her position and whether the city will now mount a search for Lee's replacement.
DiCicco argued that the cause of Lee's leave must be retaliation by the city because "Ms. Lee has an exemplary performance record with the city of Newberg and it is clear that the suspension is not performance related. At this stage we can only take Mr. Clyne at his word and therefore we believe that Ms. Lee's suspension is directly in response to her having filed a report alleging that senior city officials engaged in harassment, retaliation and other unlawful conduct."
Lee could join the growing list of employees who have filed lawsuits and complaints against the city. That list includes Brooks, who filed notice in federal court claiming he had been retaliated against as a whistleblower; a complaint from Brittney Jeffries, also of the IT department, to the Oregon Bureau of Labor of Industries claiming she was sexually harassed over a nearly four-year period by a superior when she worked half-time in the city engineering department; and tort notices filed by counsel on behalf of Casey and Kosmicki indicating they may sue the city on unknown grounds within the next six months.
"Ms. Lee is currently exploring her legal options," DiCicco said. "It has always been Ms. Lee's goal as the human resources director for the city of Newberg to create a workplace environment where people can feel free to speak up about harassment without fear of retaliation. I can tell you that it is illegal for a public employer to take an adverse employment action against an employee who reports what he or she believes in good faith to be unlawful conduct. I believe that the city of Newberg has failed Ms. Lee in this regard. I can also tell you that Ms. Lee is not alone."
Alison Seiler, a part-time employee assisting Lee before her departure, has taken over the human resources director position on an interim basis, Clyne said.
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