A lawsuit filed against the City of Reno is ongoing, and a new motion filed Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, requested that City Attorney Karl Hall recuse himself from defending the suit.
The motion was filed by Mark Mausert, attorney for the plaintiffs whom allege sexual harassment and retaliation by the city under previous City Manager Andrew Clinger. The complainants are two women who worked in City Hall’s upper administration until late 2016.
Mausert said that Hall was directly involved with city actions related to the suit prior to the litigation being filed.
“A motion to recuse an attorney should not be lightly filed, or granted,” Mausert wrote. “Here, the circumstances militate strongly for the recusal of … Hall. Hall has a strong motive to conceal the misconduct he has indulged and permitted – as opposed to properly litigating on behalf of his client, the City of Reno.”
Mausert said that two recent incidences came to light that add more reasons for Hall’s recusal. One is a new complaint by a former employee who said that former City Revitalization Manager Bill Dunne sexually assaulted her.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Throughout this process our concern has been for confidentiality and the privacy of the claimant to protect her from unwanted publicity.’ — City Attorney Karl Hall on the latest sexual harassment allegation facing the City of Reno.” quote=”‘Throughout this process our concern has been for confidentiality and the privacy of the claimant to protect her from unwanted publicity.’ — City Attorney Karl Hall on the latest sexual harassment allegation facing the City of Reno.”]
“She accuses Mr. Dunne of having repeatedly grabbed her breasts over a period of about a year, and then trapping her in his car – for the purpose of demanding she perform a sex act,” Mausert said. “The city responded by turning off her email and immediately showing her the door (in November 2017). That is, the city retaliated.”
Dunne denied wrongdoing, according to reporting in the Reno Gazette-Journal. He has since left city employment. A complaint against Dunne was filed with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission as a step toward a new lawsuit by Mausert and his client against the city.
Hall said at a press conference two weeks ago that the complainant declined to file a police report and that a third-party investigation was initiated. He did not elaborate further on the investigation.
“Throughout this process our concern has been for confidentiality and the privacy of the claimant to protect her from unwanted publicity,” Hall said. “We will not be providing additional details on this case.”
Reno Police Chief Jason Soto called the newest allegations “a potential active investigation.”
Alleged Pay Discrepancies
The other development is what Mausert is calling a deliberate attempt by Hall to conceal sexual favoritism by Clinger.
“One of … Hall’s worst offenses is failing to inform (outside investigators) of the findings of Reno’s chairwoman of its Civil (Service Commission),” Mausert alleged. “(Jean) Atkinson informed Reno’s human resources manager, Reno’s budget and finance director, and Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas in August and September of 2015 (that) Clinger was discriminating in favor of the women he found sexually attractive – apparently for the purposes of establishing sexual relationships.”
According to a sworn declaration, Atkinson said that she reviewed data regarding raises given by Clinger to his leadership group.
“It quickly became apparent to me that there were differences in pay practices between men and women within the management group,” she said. “That is, a number of women in the management group gained significant advantages per pay decisions by Clinger, but not the men and not all of the women – or if they did receive raises, the raises were much smaller or based only on what was minimally required.”
Kate Thomas received a 40 percent pay increase and a promotion to assistant city manager, but others, such as Finance Director Robert Chisel, “did not receive a raise – even though he … assumed greater responsibilities (when promoted),” Atkinson explained.
Atkinson said that she was concerned enough about what she discovered that she shared her findings with the city’s human resources director, Chisel, and Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas. She said that Chisel and Bill Thomas “affirmed awareness” of the issue.
Atkinson’s review led to one male employee receiving a pay increase in order for his salary to be equitable with others in the city’s upper management.
City Attorney Hall said he had no idea what Mausert is referring to in regard to the 2015 pay discrepancies and would not comment because the lawsuit is pending.
“We will oppose the motion (to recuse) and move forward on the case,” he said.
[clickToTweet tweet=”“It quickly became apparent to me that there were differences in pay practices between men and women within the (City of Reno) management group.’ –Reno Civil Service Commission Chair, Jean Atkinson” quote=”“It quickly became apparent to me that there were differences in pay practices between men and women within the (City of Reno) management group.’ — Reno Civil Service Commission Chair, Jean Atkinson”]
Mausert: Other Reasons For Recusal
Mausert also alleged that Hall failed to “keep his client … the Mayor … apprised of material facts… (and failed to inform) the City Council of sexual harassment complaints against … Clinger.” (Schieve said she was unaware of the latest sexual harassment complaint until it was reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal.)
Mausert claimed that Hall trivialized sexual harassment complaints, failed to take immediate action upon reports of impropriety, lied to and interfered with outside investigators, and condoned a $250,000 severance payout to Clinger despite his admission of destroying public records – a felony violation of Nevada public records laws, Mausert said — using a smartphone app that destroys text messages between senders.
“Clinger’s use of the ‘Telegram’ app, i.e., the same app used by ISIS to prevent recovery of text messages, is repeatedly described throughout Judge Wall’s report,” Mausert wrote.
Moreover, Mausert said that Hall gave to Clinger the name of one of his accusers “disregarding (the city’s human resources director’s) advice.”
Clinger, as allegations emerged, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“For me to be able to defend these frivolous allegations I believe is my right,” he said at the time.
City Assigned In-House Attorney to Defend Itself
A previous motion for recusal of Hall was countered by the city. It indicated that the plaintiffs had no standing to request the recusal.
“(The plaintiffs) admit that their true motivation for filing the motion to recuse is to gain a tactical advantage in settlement negotiations because City Attorney Hall has rebuffed their recent settlement offer,” the city asserted.
Hall and Assistant City Attorney William Cooper called the plaintiffs’ request for recusal “a half-baked conclusion based on inadmissible and incompetent hearsay, speculation, and conjecture.”
They also said that Hall, Assistant City Attorney Jonathan Shipman, and Assistant City Attorney Mark Dunagan have not been shown by the plaintiffs to be necessary witnesses.
“The defense of plaintiffs’ lawsuit has been assignment to … Cooper, and he will serve as the city’s advocate at the trial of this matter,” they wrote.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Allegations in the complaint … do not rise to the level of speculation – amounting to no more than office gossip.’ — City of Reno attorneys in response to sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.” quote=”‘Allegations in the complaint … do not rise to the level of speculation – amounting to no more than office gossip.’ — City of Reno attorneys in response to sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.”]
City Wants All Complaints Dismissed
The city filed a prior response to Mausert Feb. 2, 2018 and, essentially, considers all claims by the plaintiffs invalid. It asked the court to dismiss Mausert’s exhibits alleging various claims.
“None were properly submitted as part of the complaint, incorporated by reference in the complaint, or qualify as ‘matters of public record’ for purposes of taking judicial notice…” Cooper wrote. “Because the allegations in the complaint regarding the relationship between Clinger and (then Assistant City Manager Kate) Thomas do not rise to the level of speculation – amounting to no more than office gossip – the court cannot infer more than a mere possibility of a hostile work environment based on a theory of sexual favoritism.”
The city also denied hostile work environment claims.
“(Plaintiff 1) initiated flirtatious text messages with Clinger…and raised claims regarding Clinger’s conduct only after the conclusion of Mercado’s investigation on July 21, 2016, three to six months after the alleged incidents … at the apparent prompting of her attorneys,” city attorneys wrote. “Given all this evidence, (the plaintiff’s) conduct over time raises serious question as to whether Clinger’s alleged conduct was unwelcome or coercive, and whether (the plaintiff) was playing a ‘game’ of her own making in pursuit of her own professional and financial interests.
“Thus, a court would be hard pressed to infer more than the mere possibility that Clinger’s alleged misconduct was unwelcome, and the claims have not crossed the line from conceivable to plausible and must be dismissed,” the city added.
Moreover, the city said that the allegations against the city are basically fiction.
“In light of the arguments made in the opposition … the city stands on its arguments…” city attorneys argued. “As concluded in the report, ‘the secondary complaints are mostly without any factual basis and may have been included to generate animosity toward Clinger and (to) assure his demise as city manager.
“The secondary complaints, for the most part, lack merit or simply cannot be substantiated,” the city maintained.
Therefore, the city said that the complaints must be dismissed.
Video: City Holds Press Conference on The Latest Sexual Harassment Allegation
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.