A settlement of at least $50,000 is in the works for a 2009 federal lawsuit filed in connection with a sex scandal at Winder City Hall.
Following a closed meeting Sept. 23, the Winder City Council voted to write a $50,000 check to the city’s liabil ity insurance carrier, Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency.
The vote came one week after a mediation that, according to court records, was held Sept.16 in order to resolve the matter. A settlement would bring to a close nearly a year of public controversy and embarrassment for the city government.
City attorney John Stell declined to answer any questions following the vote because the settlement was not finalized.
It is unclear whether the council’s approved payment is the total amount being offered to former accounts payable clerk Sue Fowler of Winder, or if it is only the city government’s deductible on the claims she filed against the city’s finance director, Leslie Ginn, late city administrator Bob Beck, and the city government.
Fowler worked in several capacities for the city until Feb. 4, 2009, when she was laid off with about two-dozen other city employees.
Five months later, she filed a gender-discrimination and retaliation complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Following the issuance of a federal Notice of Right to Sue, she filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Gainesville Division.
Her November 2009 suit alleges that she was laid off after losing favor at city hall for having the previous year filed an internal complaint against Ginn, whose last name has since changed to Henderson.
Fowler’s internal complaint was filed after Henderson took away some of her job duties and cut her pay by $3.50 an hour, the suit states.
Fowler claimed that Henderson’s actions were in retaliation for her having socially distanced herself from Henderson and her former husband. Fowler said she pulled away because of the female finance director’s sexually tinged behavior during a city-paid training trip to New Orleans and in other places, both inside and outside the workplace.
The city administration’s internal investigation of Fowler’s 2008 complaint found that Henderson had violated city policies, but she was allowed to use paid vacation benefits during her suspension and was subjected to only other minor discipline.
Fowler alleged that lack of disciplinary action was due to Beck’s demonstrated favoritism toward Henderson.
Meanwhile, Fowler said her own work environment became increasingly hostile.
“Following her formal complaint, Fowler got the ‘cold shoulder’ from other city employees,” states an amended complaint filed two months ago on July 20. “Fowler was informed that department heads were told by Beck not to talk to her.”
Fowler’s complaint states that it was Beck who called her, while she was on approved sick leave on Feb. 4, 2009, and told her that her job had been eliminated, she could make arrangements to clean out her desk, that a termination packet was being brought to her, “and that Fowler was more than welcome to call her attorney.”
In Henderson’s Aug. 2 response to the amended complaint, she admits some of the alleged behaviors, but says everything that happened between her and Fowler was consensual.
IN OTHER COUNCIL BUSINESS
The council’s action on the lawsuit followed an hour-long closed meeting that had been called to discuss an unrelated matter.
In a second vote following the closed session, the council authorized Stell to institute condemnation proceedings in October against the owners of seven commercial parcels on West Athens Street.
The city needs the right-of-way for a major intersection improvement at West Athens Street, Horton Street and McNeal Road.
The action is to be taken if negotiations are not completed by early October.
On the targeted parcels are a KFC restaurant, a Sunoco gas station, a country buffet restaurant, a hotel and some mini warehouses, according to Stell.