Ex-finance chief’s dispute with Port Angeles City Hall will go to trial

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — An Oct. 13 trial date has been set in a lawsuit former city Finance Director Yvonne Ziomkowski filed against the city over her March 15, 2012, termination.

Ziomkow­ski was fired for violating city policy by withdrawing vacation- and sick-day cash­outs totaling $28,862, funds she has re­paid.

The trial will be held in Clallam County Superior Court. The date was set Friday.

Ziomkowski, 59, filed a complaint for damages May 19 in which she alleges she was wrongfully discharged and was subjected to both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and that the city violated state law against discrimination.

She is seeking unspecified damages for loss of earnings, health and welfare benefits, pension and retirement benefits, past and future medical insurance payments, insurance premiums, job search expenses and attorney fees.

Ziomkowski is represented by Port Angeles lawyer Karen Unger.

Seattle lawyer Shannon Ragonesi, representing the city, denied the claims in a July 15 answer to the complaint.

In her complaint, Ziomkowski, a 24-year city employee, alleged that from January 2009 until her termination, she was subject to a hostile work environment and sex and age discrimination that led to her firing, which she said was unlawful.

“Plaintiff Ziomkowski was subjected to inappropriate sexual jokes made by male employees, was subject to chastisement and ridicule because of her ethnic background and accent in the manner in which she spoke English and ongoing discrimination and workplace harassment,” according to her complaint.

In addition, according to the complaint, “plaintiff Ziomkowski was intentionally excluded from decision-making meetings and faced different sanctions than her male counterparts for making the same decisions regarding work-related activities, including the issue of ‘cash-out’ leave.”

She also was “subject to derisive comments, criticized for failing to follow the ‘party line’ and excluded from participation in City Council presentations on a regular basis,” according to the complaint.

“No other male employees in similar positions of authority were subjected to similar treatment.”

Ziomkowski also says she was “ridiculed, intimidated or insulted” by male city department heads when she tried to assist them in evaluating budget needs.

Under a recommendation from Kitsap Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Salamas, Ziomkowski was not criminally charged for cashing out three years’ worth of unused vacation days and sick leave.

The investigation was referred to Salamas by former county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly to avoid a conflict of interest, Kelly said.

Salamas rejected the State Patrol’s recommendation that Ziomkowski be charged with eight crimes, including felony first-degree theft.

The overpayments were discovered during the state Auditor’s Office’s annual review of city finances for 2010.

The Auditor’s Office criticized the city for cash-outs taken by Ziomkowski and other employees, saying the city had “unclear policies and inadequate controls” that resulted in possible overpayments but that no employees intentionally misappropriated funds.

The cash-out program has been eliminated and city policy clarified on the payment of unused accrued leave, which employees now receive when they leave city employment, City Manager Dan McKeen said last week.

In May, before Ziomkowski filed suit, McKeen had issued a memo saying the city had acted properly in firing Ziomkowski.

The memo was in response to supporters — including former Mayors Glenn Wiggins and Larry Doyle — who packed a City Council meeting to urge that Ziomkowski be reinstated.

After learning from a reporter that ­McKeen said he wouldn’t return her to her job, Ziomkowski said she was “very, very sad my 24 years of very loyal and dedicated service to the city has been ended like this.

“I don’t feel I did anything wrong,” she said. “I acted based on past practices.”

Ziomkowski is not working at all now, she said Friday, adding that she spends much of her time dealing with serious health issues.

“I had been working for the city tirelessly for 23 years and did the best job I could for the city and the whole community,” she said.

“I’m still having a really hard time comprehending what has happened.”

Ziomkowski’s cash-outs for the three years totaled 896 hours.

She was allowed to keep $33,049 in accrued leave and repaid $28,862.

If a settlement is reached in the case, the funds would be drawn from the city’s insurance pool, which has a $100,000 deductible, city Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said Friday.

Ziomkowski was among 11 city employees, including McKeen and former City Manager Kent Myers, who fired her, who had received cash-outs since 2004 that exceeded limits set by city policy, according to a Peninsula Daily News investigation.

Myers repaid $1,442, while McKeen was allowed to keep his leave of $11,431 because it was approved by then-City Manager Mike Quinn.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.



Managing Editor/News Leah Leach contributed to this report.

Last modified: January 18. 2014 5:27PM
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