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Worker alleges favoritism, sexual harrassment at city hall

By MARY BROWNFIELD

Published: June 19, 2009

CARMEL CITY Administrator Rich Guillen has had inappropriate relationships with women working for him, given them unwarranted pay raises and promotions, and forced older workers and other women out of work — all with the knowledge of the mayor and city council — according to a lawsuit filed in Monterey County Superior Court Wednesday by Jane Miller, the 62-year-old human resources manager who left on medical leave in May 2008 and has not returned.

Alleging sex-based and age-based discrimination, failure to prevent sexual harassment, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment based on age, and retaliation in violation of the law, Miller’s suit outlines years of alleged misconduct and seeks damages for lost wages and benefits, as well as for emotional and physical injuries, and attorney’s fees, costs of the case, interest and other relief.

Age discrimination?

Hired in 1999, Miller was a personnel specialist when Guillen took over the city manager’s job in late 2000. During the next three years, with the support of the mayor and council, he “forced out several longtime city directors and employees,” according to Miller’s suit, “all of whom were significantly over the age of 40.”

During that time, he allegedly developed an inappropriate personal relationship with an employee identified as Female A in the suit, and gave her “significant, preferential, favorable treatment in her employment,” including unjustified promotions and pay increases amounting to an 83 percent increase between 2003 and the time she left the city last year. Promoted to human resources manager by then, Miller’s lawsuit says she objected to the promotions and raises.

The lawsuit also alleges he formed a similar relationship with another city hall worker, Female B, giving her a promotion and raises amounting to a 70 percent increase since her hiring in 2005.

Over the years, the lawsuit claims, he repeatedly sought Miller’s affections, hugged her and flirtatiously mussed her hair, sent her a lot of email and text messages, and called her all the time, including early in the morning and late at night.

“Guillen described the plaintiff as a ‘hottie,’ a ‘blonde worker bee,’ ‘beautiful,’ and a ‘blonde hottie,’” the suit says, and used “terms of endearment that might be common for a girlfriend or sexual partner, but which were offensive, demeaning, harmful and inappropriate” when made to her. He acknowledged the comments were unwanted, according to the suit.

She also alleges he frequently referred to her age as being near retirement, and suggested they could be together after both left the city.

“Guillen intimidated the plaintiff at work, and she believed she had no adequate or effective remedy to address Guillen’s conduct,” according to the suit, because he often displayed the power he had over all city workers as “the boss.” “The plaintiff reasonably believed that if she challenged Guillen for his conduct and statements, her position and professional status would be injured, her career would be jeopardized, and she would lose all or part of her salary and benefits.”

According to her complaint, Guillen’s behavior created a hostile work environment, especially for women who would not flirt.

He also continued to force older, longtime employees out of their jobs, she alleges.

In spring 2007, Guillen told Miller he was getting rid of her position but would hire her back as a consultant at an hourly rate. A year later, he said he was cutting her position and ordered her to prepare the payroll paperwork eliminating her own job.

During that time, he “continued to isolate, embarrass and stigmatize” Miller and “demonstrated to the other workers in the workplace his control and dominion over [her] and over her career in such a way as to force [her] from her position with the city.”

On May 20, 2008, attorney Michael Stamp wrote a letter to the mayor and council advising them of Guillen’s behavior and seeking prompt action in response. The following day, Miller left on sick leave “after she was evaluated and treated for symptoms caused by the illegal actions of the city.”

That letter, and subsequent correspondence, received no response, according to Miller’s suit. She filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in July 2008 and received a letter from the agency giving her the right to sue the city.

Due to Guillen’s actions that “created an intimidating, oppressive, hostile and offensive working environment,” and the city’s failure to respond, Miller has yet to return to work, even though she has used up her leave and is no longer being paid.

Calls to city attorney Don Freeman and an email to Guillen seeking their response to the suit were not returned.

According to the Monterey County Superior Court calendar, an attorneys’ meeting is set for Dec. 17 in front of Judge Susan Dauphiné.