$300,000 agreement would end claims proceeding in federal court
The City of Reno announced today, in a city council meeting agenda, that it is considering a $300,000 settlement for two women who filed suit against the city for harassment, retaliation and a hostile working environment.
A federal judge found in July that there were grounds for the suit to proceed in court.
Judge Miranda Du dismissed complaints filed by former the Assistant to the City Manager, Maureen McKissick. But she sided with the other plaintiff, former city communications director, Deanna Gescheider, on a sexual harassment claim. Du said that getting touched by former City Manager Andrew Clinger could be construed as sexual.
“A reasonable jury could conclude that Clinger’s touching of Gescheider was sexual in nature or was made because of her gender, considering the totality of the circumstances in the workplace and Gescheider’s relationship with Clinger,” Du determined. “As reasonable jury could find that the work environment was subjectively and objectively abusive, based on sex, considering the totality of the circumstances.”
Du, therefore, granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city for everything except Gescheider’s sexually hostile work environment claim.
“I think we owe them a great debt of gratitude for revealing to us the makeup of our city, the fact that we did not have good procedures in place.”
Today, however, the city noted that it is putting a settlement for Gescheider and McKissick up to the City Council for approval. It’s on the agenda for the September 23 meeting.
The plaintiffs and the city had a settlement conference earlier this month. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Mausert, in response to Du’s ruling in July, said that he would be proceeding into litigation against the city.
“We’re going to appeal Maureen’s case, and we’re going to trial on Gescheider’s case,” he told ThisisReno in July.
The lawsuit is an ugly chapter in the city’s history. It revealed a toxic environment at City Hall under Clinger’s tenure as city manager.
Employees were pitted against one another, major personnel decisions were made without staff buy-in and high-level managers were personally attacking one another via text messages.
Clinger was also shown to have encouraged staff to communicate with each other through apps that destroyed messages. This was so conversations could not be discoverable under the Nevada Public Records Act.
That apparently didn’t work. In the discovery phase of this lawsuit, dozens of pages of text messages were made public. They were later provided by a citizen to the city council during public comment so that they would be entered into the public record.
Mausert said those messages “memorialize crystalline hostility toward the plaintiffs.”
The suit cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, consultants, investigations
This was after it was revealed that the city attorney’s office was requesting the sexual history of the plaintiffs as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit.
Hall refused. He said he was zealously defending the city and taxpayers.
Schieve was pissed.
“For me, whenever I read about this kind of questioning … I was incredibly shocked,” the mayor said. “(I was) disgusted, and, frankly, also being a woman, I was offended. I was embarrassed by it. (These women) put blood, sweat and tears into this city.
“When I read something like that in the media, it is not okay. It is not acceptable. Period. I won’t tolerate it; the city won’t tolerate it.”
Clinger denied any wrongdoing.
He is now the chief financial officer at the Nevada System of Higher Education. He resigned in 2016 amid the allegations of a hostile and “sexualized” work environment.
Councilmembers have publicly defended the plaintiffs.
Naomi Duerr thanked the complainants, naming them by name and praised them for speaking out.
“I think we owe them a great debt of gratitude for revealing to us the makeup of our city, the fact that we did not have good procedures in place,” she said. “Because you came forward, we learned important things about our agency. They were difficult to learn about (and) difficult to remediate.”
She also criticized Hall’s handling of the case:
“You said the (words) that you are zealously (defending the city), and that concerns me,” she said. “It seems to be to undermine the credibility of these women. There seems to be another way. I don’t think it’s necessary to attack the women that have come forward with the best of intent.
“I cannot accept this approach even though it may be a winning strategy. I want the settlement, if we ever get there, to be about improving this place and restoring the honor of our employees.”
Clinger’s severance package explained by City Attorney Karl Hall
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.