Port Angeles employee filing sexual harassment claim runs out of accrued leave

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A city employee who is seeking $100,000 in damages from the city, citing alleged sexual harassment by a City Council member and a hostile work environment, is no longer being paid after her accrued leave time ran out last week.

City Manager Dan ­McKeen said Friday that Teresa Pierce, 53, who had been on paid leave since August, has not returned to work and is currently on “inactive” status, meaning she is still technically employed by the city.

“She no longer has any accrued leave time. She's not being paid,” McKeen said.

The city hired Kari Martinez-Bailey on Jan. 6 at $3,604 per month as a temporary, full-time city employee to handle some of the responsibilities Pierce had as executive administrative assistant and deputy city clerk.

In addition to $100,000, Pierce said she had filed with the city's insurance carrier for long-term disability payments and also asked for “reasonable accommodations” so she could return to work.

Two recent complaints

Pierce's hostile work environment complaint is one of two made against the city in the past two years.

Former finance director Yvonne Ziomkowski has a lawsuit set for an October trial.

Pierce filed a claim against the city Jan. 13 alleging Councilman Brad Collins made inappropriate sexual comments to her and repeatedly looked at her in ways that made her uncomfortable in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

“I have been subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment since 2010 when Brad Collins was appointed to the Port Angeles City Council,” Pierce said in her claim.

“I did not say anything that was intentionally personal or offensive to City Council Administrative Assistant Teresa Pierce,” Collins said in a statement issued Feb. 22.

When reached by phone Friday, Collins, 65, said: “I don't have anything more to say.”

Pierce, who has worked for the city for 12 years, also said in her claim that City Clerk Janessa Hurd had once served as a “safety net” for her around Collins but became “disrespectful and belittling” after Pierce's job title at the city was changed from executive communications coordinator to executive administrative assistant and deputy city clerk in August.

Wages

McKeen had said Pierce's hourly wage as of this year was $29.378 and her annual salary about $61,000.

According to city code, the deputy mayor receives a salary of $600 per month, while council members receive $550 per month.

Collins was first appointed as a council member January 2010 and served as deputy mayor from January 2012 until the end of last year.

Ziomkowski filed a lawsuit May 14. It is set for an Oct. 13 trial in Clallam County Superior Court.

Ziomkowski filed a claim for damages received by the city June 28, 2012, alleging she was wrongfully fired March 15, 2012, and subjected to a hostile work environment, and that sex and age discrimination led to her firing, according to her complaint.

Ziomkowski, 59, was fired for violating city policy by withdrawing vacation- and sick-day cash-outs totaling $28,862, funds she has since re­paid.

Negotiations on claim

Regarding Pierce's claim, McKeen said negotiations are ongoing between the city's insurance carrier, the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, and Pierce's attorney, listed in her claim as Donna L. Knifsend of Port Angeles.

Neither Pierce nor Knifsend has returned calls requesting comment.

McKeen said he could not offer a timeline for resolution of the claim.

“Each claim is unique with its own set of circumstances, and each claim has its own unique timeline,” McKeen said.

The city's insurance coverage has a $100,000 deductible, he said.

“If there were a settlement for a claim that was less than the deductible, then the city would be responsible for the entire amount,” McKeen said.

“Any [city] expenditure beyond $25,000 has to be approved by [City Council members], no matter what the expenditure is,” he added.

McKeen said he could not speculate on the possibility of Pierce returning to work for the city.

“I can't speculate on what the outcome of this situation is going to be,” he said.

________

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.

Last modified: March 08. 2014 6:39PM
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