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Ficalore lawsuit to cost taxpayers $30K minimum

City’s insurance to foot $275K of $300K settlement to end former employee’s discrimination suit

A $300,000 settlement to end a sex and disability discrimination case against Peachtree City officials and police chief H.C. “Skip” Clark will cost city taxpayers a minimum of $30,000.

While the $300,000 will be paid by the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Association (GIRMA) on behalf of the city, the city will pay a $25,000 deductible on the case to GIRMA and an additional $5,000 to compensate former police department administrative assistant Lisa Ficalore for back pay.

The city also has spent additional funds defending the case through the actions of City Attorney Ted Meeker, who is compensated by the hour, but the final tally was not available by press time Tuesday.

The settlement approved last week ends Ficalore’s federal lawsuit, which claimed that Clark retaliated against Ficalore based on her gender and her usage of medical leave for a disability.

The lawsuit claimed that Ficalore received two demotions after Clark became police chief in August 2010. The first demotion was to a lower-paying administrative position in the police department. The second demotion assigned Ficalore to City Hall in a position that was later eliminated by the city. The city offered Ficalore a choice of six weeks’ severance pay if she resigned or she could take the position on a part-time basis, and she chose the latter.

The lawsuit was backed by an investigation conducted by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the settlement decision was made by GIRMA with little input from the city, except for a commitment to pay $5,000 in back pay to Ficalore. The settlement was reached following a mediation hearing between Ficalore, the city and GIRMA officials last month, city officials said.

During the EEOC investigation, there were allegations that Chief Clark interfered with the EEOC probe by intimidating two high-ranking officers who backed Ficalore’s allegations of disability discrimination and unlawful retaliation.

The EEOC issued a cease and desist order on Clark to prohibit such conduct, as Ficalore’s lawsuit alleged that Clark told one of the officers it would be “bad” if that officer didn’t back him (Clark) up on the matter.

City Attorney Ted Meeker said the decision to settle the Ficalore case was a financial one made in part due to “having to litigate almost every employment decision made over the course of the last two and a half years.”

Meeker in a statement Friday contended that none of Ficalore’s claims had any merit with the “possible exception” of a demotion Ficalore was denied after she was transferred from the police department to city hall. Ficalore’s lawsuit contended she was denied that promotion because the court clerk determined Ficalore might might have difficulty working with police officers based on her issues with the department.

Meeker said the city “immediately reversed that decision upon becoming aware of the court clerk’s comments.”

Meeker noted that in the past three years, four people have filed discrimination charges against the police department including Ficalore’s case. Of the others, two were dismissed and the third was settled for $1,000 before a lawsuit could be filed, he said.

The lawsuit was filed against the city, Clark and each City Council member in their “individual capacities.”

Such language created a stir last year when four members on City Council docked the pay of Mayor Don Haddix to recoup money the city paid to settle a libel lawsuit filed against Haddix in his individual capacity, even though it involved an action that he took as mayor since the derogatory statement occurred in an email to a city staffer.

That action was reversed several months later after Haddix threatened to sue the city for his salary, which was reduced from $750 a month to just under $75 a month in what council members termed “a budget amendment.”

The salary reduction was instigated by council members Kim Learnard, Eric Imker, George Dienhart and Vanessa Fleisch, who said they were responding to an outcry from citizens who were upset with the city having to foot the bill over the lawsuit, which was eventually settled.

Haddix explained Tuesday morning that he and council members are routinely sued in their “individual capacities” in lawsuits, but they are protected by the city’s indemnification policies and GIRMA representation as long as they are acting in their official capacities and not accused of actions that are outside the scope of GIRMA’s coverage.

There was never a question in the Ficalore case whether the city council was acting in their official capacity and thus GIRMA coverage was appropriate, Haddix said.

“The case was always about what occurred: her position and the city’s position. It never got into any individual wrongdoing,” Haddix said. “On that part, there was nothing we were individually responsible for.”

Harold Logsdon, who is in a runoff against Fleisch for the mayor’s post in the Dec. 3 election, declined to comment on whether council members should be protected by the city in the Ficalore suit in particular, saying he wasn’t up to speed on details of the lawsuit.

“I’d have to know more about the Lisa lawsuit,” Logsdon said. “I can’t comment on that. I am so out of the loop on that, I actually have zero knowledge about it, so I can’t comment on it.:

Fleisch declined to comment on whether council members should be required to pay toward the settlement in light of the way the Haddix lawsuit was handled. She said the matter was a legal question which she forwarded to the city attorney to review.

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