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EEOC to PTC: Settle this dispute

Agency finds Chief Clark discriminated, retaliated against long-time female employee

The EEOC says Peachtree City Police Chief H.C. ”Skip” Clark discriminated against one of his female employees “because of her disability,” singled her out for retaliation and threatened her coworkers for supporting her position.

The Atlanta office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) has upheld a filing by Peachtree City employee Lisa Ficalore and has told the city to settle with her.

The city, citing confidentiality requirements, has declined to comment on Ficalore’s claims and the EEOC’s findings.

Ficalore was previously an assistant to former Police Chief James Murray and was employed in the police department until being transferred to City Hall.

A Nov. 30 Letter of Determination from EEOC Atlanta Director Bernice Williams-Kimbrough said there is reasonable cause to believe that Ficalore was discriminated against and has recommended that Ficalore and Peachtree City pursue a conciliation agreement as an alternative to litigation.

Representing Ficalore, attorney Ed Buckley on Monday confirmed that EEOC has asked the parties to pursue a conciliation agreement that could settle the issue out of court. Buckley said he would be asking that the conciliation be undertaken in December if possible.

Peachtree City spokesperson Betsy Tyler on Tuesday said the city’s attorneys have stated that, “The city does not comment on pending personnel matters and does not intend to change that practice at this time. Furthermore, as noted in the letter you have apparently received from Mrs. Ficalore and/or her attorney, the EEOC’s processes are supposed to be confidential, and notwithstanding the actions of others, the city intends to maintain confidentiality in a manner consistent with legal requirements. Without addressing this claim specifically, as a matter of policy and practice, the city does seek to resolve amicably those claims that have merit and to defend itself vigorously against claims that are without merit or that cannot be resolved on reasonable terms.”

EEOC’s position is that, based on the evidence and the record as a whole, it is reasonable to conclude that Ficalore was discriminated against due to her disability.

“The evidence reveals that (Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark) openly discussed (Ficalore’s) disability, his frustration with (Ficalore) because of her disability and his desire to discharge her on the basis of her usage of medical leave for her disability. The evidence further indicates that (Ficalore) was often singled out for retaliatory reasons thus creating a hostile work environment. Lastly, evidence indicates that (Ficalore’s) coworkers were threatened and intimidated by (Clark) when they supported (Ficalore’s) allegations of disability discrimination and unlawful retaliation,” Williams-Kimbrough said.

Ficalore in her filings contended that Peachtree City unlawfully disclosed confidential details about her disability and subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her disability, EEOC said. Ficalore also alleged that Peachtree City reacted to her complaints of discrimination by subjecting her to further harassment in retaliation for lodging those complaints.

For its part, Peachtree City denied the allegations, EEOC said.

Ficalore’s EEOC filings and amendments go back to April 2011.

“I filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against (Peachtree City and the Peachtree City Police Dept.) on Feb. 18, 2011 and amended it twice, first on April 1, 2011 and again on April 5, 2012,” Ficalore said in August. “Since that time, I have been retaliated against repeatedly to the point that I have suffered adverse employment actions and a hostile work environment. Indeed, it appears the city has done everything it can to force me to quit as a result of my protected activity. After I filed my last amendment to charge, I was denied comp time, I was denied training, denied overtime, I was written up unfairly, non-selected for other jobs including the job described below and threatened with termination, my medical information was kept on my supervisor’s home computer, and she referenced my disability in a job-related evaluation.”

Pertaining to the various EEOC filings, Buckley in August said he had reached out to Peachtree City to resolve the issues and was awaiting a response. Buckley said the legal matter would move forward in the event that Peachtree City declines to resolve it.

Also in the Aug. 6 filing, Ficalore referenced a number of factors that she maintained has resulted in a retaliatory hostile work environment.

“Specifically, my position as customer service representative was eliminated in violation of city policy - reducing my hours, pay and eliminating my pension eligibility for other benefits. I applied for the position of Deputy Court Clerk, a full-time position for which I was well-qualified and have all the necessary certifications.

“Initially I was told that I could not apply as my husband, a corporal in the police department, is also a city employee. There are many other city employees who are married or dating other city employees and there is no policy against that.

“I subsequently learned that the Clerk of the Court expressly stated that I would not be hired into the open position because of my ‘current situation’ with the city and especially the police department.

“More specifically, the clerk stated that there was too much tension and bad blood between me and the police department with everything that has happened and the people in the police department would not want to deal with me on a daily basis.

“Apparently, the city solicitor as well had recommended me for the position but to no avail. The position was filled by an outside applicant notwithstanding the city’s policy to promote from within. I subsequently learned that the court supervisor stated that mine was only a ‘courtesy interview,’” the Aug. 6 filing said.

What started in February 2011 as an EEOC complaint by Ficalore, who then served as a staff assistant in the police department, against Chief Clark on grounds of discrimination due to gender and disabilities turned into two amended charges in April 2011 and an April 2012 letter from the Atlanta EEOC director telling Clark that the commission has reason to believe that he engaged in conduct that amounts to controlling or intimidating witnesses in Ficalore’s complaint.

Another filing on May 18 charged retaliation over the elimination of her full-time position with benefits in City Hall earlier that month by the City Council. Ficalore’s was the only actively-filled position eliminated, the filing said.

The various filings include allegations such as Ficalore being subject to a hostile work environment based on gender and disabilities, that she was denied training that others received, that Clark changed Ficalore’s score on a performance evaluation to a lower score, that Peachtree City Police Capt. Stan Pye and former Maj. Mike Dupree based on conversations with Clark told city Human Resources Administrator Ellece Brown that “everyone is afraid of retaliation” and that “everybody is scared to death.”

And finally, the most recent filing on May 18 alleges retaliation for the elimination of Ficalore’s full-time job in City Hall effective June 1.

The initial EEOC complaint was filed in February 2011, with Ficalore alleging discrimination based on gender and disabilities. Prior to Clark’s hire in 2008, Ficalore had served as administrative assistant to former Chief James Murray.

Ficalore in the February 2011 complaint claimed that Clark demoted her and cut her pay in October 2008 when her position was “reclassified” from administrative assistant to staff assistant.

“In October 2008, Chief Clark asked the City Council to reclassify me, lower my job title, pay grade and class level as well as my pay and max-out salary while telling me he fought hard to avoid my pay being affected,” the complaint said.

Ficalore in the complaint also maintained that she received a score of “5 out of a possible 5” that is equivalent to “outstanding” on her job performance evaluations for six consecutive years prior to Clark’s arrival. Things changed in October 2009 when she received a score of “3” on her evaluation, the complaint said.

The complaint notes that Ficalore suffers from chronic endometriosis and chronic allergies and has had to take medical leaves to treat those problems, with five surgeries in the past nine years. Ficalore said Clark was documenting her sick time and had sent her supervisors to the city’s human resources department to inquire “what they could ‘do to me’ because of my use of sick time.”

Ficalore said things changed even more in 2010, maintaining that Clark changed the score on her performance evaluation that had been completed by her immediate supervisor.

“Between October 2010 and December 2010 I received three separate evaluations prior to finally getting my final evaluation two months late. I was told by my immediate supervisor, Claudia Stapleton, that this was due to the chief changing the scores she had written in. Claudia scored me in the high ‘4s’ and the chief lowered it to a low ‘3.’ Ms. Stapleton was clear with me that she did not agree with the chief and that I was doing a wonderful job and that she would have given me a higher score,” the complaint said.

The February 2011 complaint stated that in August 2010 Clark required Ficalore to provide notes concerning her condition and prognosis and that in January 2011 prior to a scheduled surgery she was told to train a police sergeant who was on light duty to temporarily replace her. Later the same day she was told that she would be temporarily assigned to City Hall.

Ficalore in the February 2011 complaint also stated that she had been made to work in a hostile work environment, that she “experienced negative gender stereotypes from some of my coworkers and from the new chief in particular,” that Clark had told others that she was “useless” and that “he wants to get rid of me.” Ficalore said that Clark on one occasion wrote her up “for being two minutes late to work.” And Ficalore maintains that in April 2010 she was denied training that others received.

An amendment to the February 2011 complaint was filed with EEOC in April of that year. The amendment, a claim of retaliation, stated that Ficalore believed she had been singled out due to her gender, had suffered a number of adverse actions and had been repeatedly singled out by Clark.

Another portion of the April 2011 amendment stated Ficalore’s belief that the retaliation was also a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A second amended charge to the discrimination complaint was filed with EEOC in April 2012. In that amendment Ficalore said she had repeatedly applied for positions with Peachtree City for which she was well-qualified but had been rejected in favor of less-qualified applicants.

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