PTC employee sues city, alleging discrimination
A former administrative assistant with the Peachtree City Police Department has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the city, each individual city council member, City Manager Jim Pennington and also Police Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark.
The lawsuit claims that Clark intimidated two high-ranking officers in the department during the course of the EEOC investigation into the complaint filed by Lisa Ficalore. On one occasion, the suit claims that Clark threatened former police Major Mike Dupree that things would be ‘bad’ if Dupree did not back him up on the matter.
The lawsuit further claims that Clark intimidated police Capt. Stan Pye during the EEOC investigation by telling Pye that it is “easy to get rid of people,” presumably a reference to firing personnel.
Those actions were enough for the EEOC to send a letter ordering Clark to cease and desist from any conduct that might hamper the EEOC investigation.
The letter from Atlanta EEOC Director Bernice Williams-Kimbrough claimed that the commission had sufficient evidence to seek a preliminary injunction against Clark “to stop such conduct.”
In the lawsuit, Lisa Ficalore claims that she was “retaliated against and singled out because of her gender and disability” on an ongoing basis, a pattern that began shortly after Clark became police chief. According to the lawsuit, Ficalore’s medical condition has required multiple surgeries and numerous occasions during which she has had to take extended leaves of absence from work.
The lawsuit cites how Clark had her job title reduced from staff assistant to the police chief to staff assistant, cutting her pay grade and class level in a proposal approved by the City Council. That action took place in October 2010, just over two months after Clark took office.
The lawsuit also claims that in January 2011, Ficalore received a second demotion when she was reassigned from the police department to a front-desk position in city hall classified as “customer service representative II.”
That position was ultimately eliminated in May 2012 by council at the request of City Manager Pennington, and Ficalore was offered the option of taking a part-time position without benefits or resign and receive six weeks of severance pay. Ficalore chose to stay on part-time, but the loss of medical, life and dental insurance as well as disability coverage and rights under the Family Medical Leave Act “was financially and emotionally devastating” to Ficalore, the lawsuit claims.
After filing her initial complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2011, Ficalore claims that she suffered continuing retaliation from the city and its agents, including the demotions and denial of employment for different positions in the city for which Ficalore contends she is more qualified than the individuals who were ultimately selected.
In one such instance, the lawsuit claims that Ficalore applied for the position of deputy municipal court clerk, only to be told by the city’s HR director that she could not apply because her husband, a police officer, is also a city employee. The lawsuit also accuses chief court clerk Linda Morton of saying that Ficalore would not be hired because her pending EEOC claim might lead police officers to have an aversion to working with her.
Though she was not initially selected for the position, Ficalore was offered the job of deputy court clerk in Oct. 2012, according to the suit. Ficalore indicates that she declined to accept the position because Morton would be her supervisor and Ficalore was fearful of additional retaliation.
The lawsuit also claims that former acting city manager Nikki Vrana admitted to Ficalore that city management had decided not to transfer Ficalore out of her position at city hall while Ficalore’s EEOC charges were pending.
In addition to losing the ability to work compensatory time, Ficalore also claims that she has been denied the ability to take accrued vacation time and further alleges that she has been “written up for taking small increments of time off without pay.”
The lawsuit claims that Clark in 2010 required Ficalore to provide him with notes about her medical condition and prognosis although he did not request similar details from male or non-disabled employees when they needed to take medical leave.
The lawsuit also recounts how a month following that incident, Clark is alleged to have asked Ficalore’s supervisors “to ask the human resources director what they could ‘do to her’ because of her use of sick leave.”
Ficalore also contends that she has been denied training that was offered to other employees and that she also was forbidden from accruing comp time, unlike other employees.
The lawsuit’s historical recounting of the actions taken against Ficalore include the first time she was ever issued a written reprimand, on Aug. 27, 2010 “for being two minutes late to her desk.”
Ficalore notes that while she received top marks in her annual employee reviews under former police chief James Murray, she received lower scores in her assessments following the employment of Chief Clark.
On one occasion, in 2010, Ficalore’s immediate supervisor, Claudia Stapleton, gave her a draft of her performance evaluation which gave Ficalore a rating of “exceeds standards.” The lawsuit claims that Clark later amended that evaluation to give Ficalore a lower rating of “fully satisfactory.”
“Defendant Clark lowered Ms. Ficalore’s marks down to the ‘fully satisfactory’ rating due to her absences and leaves,” the lawsuit states.
That is in contrast with Ficalore’s employment record under Chief Murray, during which she received top scores in her annual evaluations along with accolades for her excellent performance and for the professional manner in which she treated others.
Ficalore is seeking compensatory and punitive damages along with back pay and reinstatement to her former position. In lieu of reinstatement, Ficalore is proposing “front pay” to compensate her for lost future wages and benefits.
Ficalore is represented by attorneys Edward D. Buckley and Jaime L. Duguay of the law firm Buckley and Klein, LLP.
The lawsuit represents one side of the issue; attorneys representing the city are expected to file an answer to the lawsuit challenging its assertions in coming weeks.