City denies Lindell’s allegations in lawsuit over dismissal | Wrongful termination lawsuit enters next phase
By ELIZABETH CELMS
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
March 26, 2009 · Updated 12:42 PM
The city of Mercer Island has filed a counterclaim denying all the accusations in former Deputy City Manager and City Attorney Londi Lindell’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the city. The suit, which was filed through the United States District Court in Seattle on Dec. 23, states that Lindell was subject to adverse employment actions, that top city officials discriminated against her because of her gender and that her termination lacked due process. She is suing for no less than $1 million in damages.
On Feb. 17, the city filed a counterclaim against Lindell. The defendants of the case include “the city,” City Manager Rich Conrad, Mayor Jim Pearman, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke and Finance Director Chip Corder. The counterclaim denies nearly all of Lindell’s allegations and affirms that the plaintiff “failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted.”
The defendants allege that while employed by the city, Lindell made false statements of material fact, engaged in “dishonest and deceitful conduct” and her actions were to “further her own interests, contrary to the interests of the city.”
Lindell, on the other hand, is claiming that the defendants conspired against her. She said the men have continued to “retaliate” against her since her dismissal.
The city fired Lindell on April 14, 2008. She was hired in 2000 as city attorney and promoted to assistant city manager in late 2006. Prior to her employment on Mercer Island, Lindell was the city attorney and assistant city manager of Federal Way.
In her complaint, Lindell states that the defendants failed to act against workplace sexual discrimination and harassment and describes several sexually charged incidents and behaviors that occurred within the city that she said were not dealt with. Lindell also accuses Conrad of treating her differently because of her gender.
Conrad denies these allegations, and the city officially backs his word in its counterclaim.
“Ms. Lindell’s claims against the city, Councilmembers and staff are misguided, and the city is confident when the litigation has concluded it will be determined that Ms. Lindell’s claims are without merit,” City Attorney Katie Knight told the Reporter earlier this year. “But because this matter is now in litigation, the city is unable to speak freely about Ms. Lindell’s specific allegations.”
Lindell states that her termination was connected with former city attorney Bob Sterbank’s departure in February 2008. Lindell said that she and Sterbank were both let go because they provided legal advice in an investigation of misconduct by Conrad.
Sterbank was paid over $130,000 and signed a confidentiality agreement in return for resigning from the city. Lindell is seeking both monetary and punitive damages from the city.
In its counterclaim, the city states that the “Plaintiff’s alleged damages, if any, were caused, or are attributed to, her own acts or omissions, or the acts or omissions of persons or entities other than defendants.”
Lindell also alleges that, because she opposed what she saw as workplace discrimination and inappropriate conduct, this led to the defendants’ “retaliation” and, ultimately, her termination.
The city’s counterclaim denies these allegations, stating that “the defendants’ actions concerning Plaintiff were motivated by legitimate and non-discriminatory business relations.”
As a result of the City Council’s dealings leading up to her termination, Lindell is accusing them of violating the open records act. The claim states that a three-member Council subcommittee acted on behalf of the full Council, taking testimony such that state law requires the meetings to be open to the public.
Just weeks before she was let go, Conrad had recommended Lindell, who had a performance rating of “outstanding,” for a similar position with the city of Medina.
She was later notified by a city official that “it is not really workable for you to remain at the city.”
Lindell filed an administrative claim for damages seeking an excess of $1 million from the city last year.
Lindell states that she was denied any type of name-clearing hearing before she was terminated. In her complaint in federal court, she requests a jury trial and seeks damages for her “reputation, career, property and liberty interests.”
The city is now waiting for Lindell to respond to its counterclaim. A response was expected last week, but has not yet been filed.