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Fired assistant nets $182,500 in settlement from City of Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley’s former executive assistant settled a wrongful termination claim against the city this week for $182,500.

Renee Recker is the third fired employee to win an employment-related claim against the city based on allegations against the mayor.

All three of the former employees were represented by Oak Harbor attorney Chris Skinner.

Timing of Recker’s termination and other evidence raised concerns about a possible violation of laws protecting ill or disabled employees, Skinner said.

Recker is recovering from cancer.

“The mayor acted out of frustration that she was taking time off through the Family Medical Leave Act,” Skinner said.

In an unusual twist, comments posted on a conservative Whidbey blog became evidence in the claim and inadvertently helped Recker’s case by revealing alleged bias.

Skinner said the blogger, a Dudley supporter, claimed he spoke to the mayor and that Dudley questioned why Recker would be clocking into work if “she was less than 100 percent health- wise.”

Recker was granted a year-long medical leave effective Oct. 5, 2012. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take time off intermittently as “medical leave.” Up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period is permitted.

Recker had been back at work, but Dudley filed her on the day her 12-month medical leave period expired.

Dudley didn’t immediately return a call for comment this week. But last October he told the Whidbey News-Times that he made the decision to terminate Recker’s employment after working with her to try to improve her work for months.

The mayor said he even hired a consultant to help her improve.

Dudley said he wanted the position to become more of an “ombudsman” to communicate with the public and track complaints and the city’s response. The position remains unfilled.

Skinner filed a complaint for damages on Recker’s behalf, originally asking for more than $700,000 in damages. The complaint asserted that Dudley violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, the state Family Leave Act and state laws against employment discrimination.

This week, City Supervisor Larry Cort attended a mediation session at a Seattle law firm. He said an attorney from the Washington Cities Insurance Authority took the lead in representing the city.

The agreement was signed at the end of mediation.

Recker has seven days from the signing date to revoke her acceptance of the agreement.

“It was a good business decision as well as a compassionate one,” Skinner said. “There was genuine concern about the former employee.”

Under the agreement, Cort will provide a letter of recommendation that’s limited to her date of employment, title, salary and the fact that Recker was terminated without cause.

Cort said the city’s insurance provider will cover the entire settlement and deductions don’t apply. He said he didn’t know if the city’s rates will increase due to this or previous settlements against the city.

Rick Wallace, a former police chief, sued the city for wrongfully termination after Dudley gave him the ax. Wallace settled for $18,500.

Former City Engineer Eric Johnston quit and then claimed Dudley created a hostile work environment; he settled his claim for $20,000.

Dudley has fired a series of employees in management positions since coming into office as a reformer more than two years ago. He fired the city supervisor, two city attorneys, the fire chief, the police chief, the human resources director and Recker.

 

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