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Oak Harbor mayor’s assistant seeking $701,250 over termination

Another former city employee has filed a claim for damages against Oak Harbor over allegations the mayor acted outside of employment law.

Renee Recker, the mayor’s former executive assistant, filed a claim Thursday for wrongful termination. She is asking for $701,250 in damages.

“It is her intention to sue Mayor Dudley personally, as well as the city, if the claim is not resolved to her satisfaction,” said her attorney, Christon Skinner, in a letter to the city.

Skinner, whose practice is in Oak Harbor, also represented former police chief Rick Wallace and former city engineer Eric Johnston in similar claims against the city.

Wallace claimed Dudley wrongfully terminated him and settled his lawsuit for $18,500. Johnston claimed Dudley created a hostile work environment and settled his claim for $20,000.

Dudley campaigned as a reformer and fired a series of city employees in administrative positions since entering office two years ago.

Expressing alarm at the high costs of the severance packages of outgoing employees, City Council members are critical of Dudley’s firings.

“To date, the mayor’s decisions regarding employee termination issues have unnecessarily cost the city an estimated $650,000 to $750,000,” City Councilman Rick Almberg said.

The mayor, however, claims the actual costs are just a fraction of that.

Dudley fired Recker early this month. He said he made the decision after working with her to try to improve her work for months. The mayor said he even hired a consultant to help her improve.

Recker was an “at-will” employee and could be fired without cause, said Dudley.

Dudley offered Recker $15,000 in addition to her one-month severance package. Instead, she turned down the proposal and filed the claim.

Dudley said he consulted with city attorneys prior to firing Recker and is convinced it was done properly.

In her claim, Recker argues that Dudley violated public policy by firing her “at a time when she was exercising her right to take leave from work for cancer related surgery, chemotherapy treatment and recovery as permitted by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act ... the Washington State Family Care Act ... and the City of Oak Harbor’s Family and Medical Leave policy.”

Recker was granted a year-long medical leave effective Oct. 5, 2012.

Dudley said she returned to working full-time months ago, after her doctors cleared her. Dudley fired her Oct. 4, the claim said.

Skinner said the Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take time off intermittently as “medical leave” up to the 12 weeks per 12-month maximum.

The idea, for example, is that the employee can take a few weeks off for surgery and recovery, then take off a day or so per week for chemotherapy or other treatment.

“Mayor Dudley discriminated against Ms. Recker because of her temporary disability, serious health condition and her protected medical leaves of absence,” the claim alleges.

The claim point out that the two former mayors who Recker worked for praised her “for exceptional performance” and Dudley didn’t conduct any performance reviews of her work.

Skinner said Dudley’s claim about the quality of Recker’s work was “a pretext to avoid liability for terminating her as a result of her need to take advantage of the FMLA.”

The damage claim of more than $700,000 is based on Recker’s annual compensation of $85,000 a year multiplied by 8.25 years of lost service, “had she been allowed to work until the age of 65 years.”

The claim threatens other damages may be sought if it isn’t paid. Those damages include emotional distress as well as attorney fees.

 

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