The Carmel Pine Cone's third story of the week

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Fired building official files claim against city

By MARY SCHLEY

Published: December 20, 2013

LESS THAN two weeks after IT manager Steve McInchak filed a claim against the City of Carmel for taking him off the job and searching his house for evidence that he broke the law while he administered the city’s computer network, former building official John Hanson, who was fired in August, also submitted a complaint against the city this week, alleging that officials at city hall violated his contract, defamed him, discriminated against him for being disabled and for serving in the military, and prevented him from getting a new job elsewhere.

A 25-year city employee who was also a member of the U.S. Army National Guard until he retired last summer, Hanson said things went sour in March, shortly after the hiring of administrative services director Susan Paul by city administrator Jason Stilwell.

During the months leading up to his firing, according to his claim, “the city undercut Mr. Hanson, interfered with his performance of his duties and misrepresented his work.” He said top city administrators, namely Stilwell and Paul, interfered with his duties, “sometimes without conferring with, or even informing” him, unduly criticized him about his job performance, took contradictory and inconsistent positions, and discriminated against him “based on age, medical condition/disability and status as an active duty member of the military.”

In short, he said, they “generally created a hostile work environment” that led to his termination without basis or due process when, on Aug. 5, he was summoned to the Carmel Police Department to meet with Chief Mike Calhoun and Stilwell. In that meeting, Hanson was fired, effective immediately, and was subsequently denied severance.

“City officials, including one or more elected officials, then began an effort to vilify and discredit Mr. Hanson, describing him in ways that the average listener knew his identity, and then declaring him unfit for his employment, all the while leaking confidential personnel information,” according to his claim.

Administrators violated his rights under the California and U.S. constitutions, and state and federal laws, as well as local law, by putting him on leave without cause or notice, preventing him from doing his job, not allowing him to be heard and unfairly interrogating him, Hanson said.

“The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s actions constituted wrongful termination,” the document he filed at city hall Tuesday states.

Further, city officials violated his privacy rights and exposed him to hatred, contempt and ridicule by publishing “defamatory and slanderous statements” indicating Hanson was guilty of misconduct and lacked proper credentials for the job. Those actions, he said, damaged him professionally and have caused “irreparable loss of his reputation in the community.” They also stigmatized and branded him by impugning his reputation and his standing, and their words and actions caused him severe emotional distress.

“In the alternative, the city breached the written contract with Hanson by terminating him, forcing him out and failing to deal with Mr. Hanson in good faith,” the claim said.

And then, when he sought work elsewhere, city officials “improperly and unlawfully interfered” with his attempts to get gainful employment, preventing him from getting hired.

Hanson, 53, a U.S. Army veteran who has served with the National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, accused the city of age discrimination and said officials fired him because he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and because he continued to serve as a military reservist.

He also claimed that numerous firings and other disciplinary actions at city hall show a pattern of age discrimination.

“The actions of the city to arbitrarily suspend or fire employees during the past year had a disparate impact upon older workers, and the city’s tactics were intended to, and did, abuse the processes of involuntary leave and summary terminations in order to scare and intimidate employees of the city, prevent them from testifying about what they have seen and learned, and force them from their employment for money-saving reasons that cause harm to the employees,” according to his claim. Those suspensions include McInchak, IT assistant Rose Franzen, and administrative coordinators Leslie Fenton and Margi Perotti.

He also said his termination was retaliation for his being a whistleblower, participating as a witness in Jane Miller’s sexual harassment lawsuit against the city, and complaining to management about “unlawful discrimination.”

Hanson is seeking compensation for damage to his livelihood, reputation, professional career, and personal integrity and health in excess of $25,000, and his claim states his damages continue to accrue.

“The city received the claim and is reviewing it,” Stilwell said. “No action has been taken, but the city will take required action as with any other claim.”

The city has 45 days to respond to the claim, and if it is denied, Hanson and his attorney, Michael Stamp, can sue the city in Monterey County Superior Court.