Paul Thissen, 2/9/11
The city will pay a $188,500 settlement to a former public works employee who argued that he was wrongfully fired in 2008.
The payment to former custodial supervisor Kevin Park, approved Tuesday by the City Council, comes in lieu of reinstating him to his job, said City Attorney Craig Labadie. The settlement represents his back pay and the amount of ongoing pay he would get until he reaches the retirement age of 50, Labadie said. It also includes another $25,000 for attorney’s fees, he said.
“Mr. Park is very pleased that we were finally able to successfully resolve this contentious matter and obtain this very positive settlement,” said Harry Stern, Park’s attorney.
A separate sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the city by another former public works employee, Tracie Simpson, is still pending.
In recent months, the city also agreed to pay $900,000 to settle two separate lawsuits by former and current police officers. A third suit against the city’s police department is pending.
Park’s June 2008 firing was “unreasonable,” according to arbitrator Paul Staudohar’s decision in the case in January 2010. He upheld an earlier five-day suspension Park had received, and wrote that he should have been suspended again for 10 days rather than being fired.
Staudohar rejected arguments that Park, a city employee since 1984, was insubordinate, neglected his duties and lied about product safety training he had attended.
But Park did make inappropriate and insulting comments about his boss — facilities maintenance manager Alton Baxley — and other city employees, the arbitrator found, and had been disruptive during a city meeting he attended while he was on vacation.
“Although it is perhaps not surprising that (Park) snapped back at Baxley by making disparaging remarks about him to co-workers, this was inappropriate,” Staudohar wrote.
Simpson’s lawsuit against the city also cites problems with Baxley’s management.
Other city employees who testified in arbitration hearings called Baxley’s management “unfair” and said he had tried to make sure Park did not have enough help from other staff members to complete his tasks, according to the arbitrator’s decision. One employee in a different department said there had been multiple complaints about Baxley and none about Park.
In contrast, Park had a good work ethic and wanted to get his work done correctly, several current and former city employees testified, according to the arbitrator’s decision. And when Park left, it took more people to accomplish some of his tasks than it had when he was working, according to one employee’s testimony.
“There is considerable evidence that (Park) was a capable employee and a valuable asset to the city,” Staudohar wrote.
There have been several changes in management at the city since the events described in the arbitrator’s decision, including the departures of the former public works and human resources directors. Baxley remains on the job.