Former public works director sues Delano

The city of Delano and its legal counsel are getting ready to defend against a lawsuit filed by former city Public Works Director Ernie Eden via his attorney, Adrianna H. Shannon, in Wright County 10th Judicial District Court.

Delano was served with a summons concerning the lawsuit on Feb. 14. Eden is suing Delano on three counts: One is under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, a second is under Minnesota Human Rights Act provisions pertaining to reprisals and the third is under state statutes pertaining to failure to pay wages promptly.

Eden was fired on Dec. 3, according to the summons. On Aug. 3 he had filed a written report to the city about gender harassment and discrimination against two female summer employees of the Delano Public Works Department. In the report, he also alleged that reprisals took place.

After a city investigation, Eden was offered a choice of resigning or early retirement. He lost his job after refusing both choices. On Dec. 23, Eden wrote to Delano asking for money owed to him for earned vacation time, compensatory time, sick leave and a personal day. Delano denied him compensation for earned and accrued paid time off, according to the summons.

Delano has 20 days in which to answer the summons. City Administrator Phil Kern said, Friday, Feb. 21, “The city is looking forward to the opportunity of showing that the allegations are wrong and false.”

The League of Minnesota Cities has assigned Attorney Julie Fleming-Wolfe as outside counsel for the city of Delano.

“She is an expert on this type of lawsuit,” Kern said. “We are happy to have her on board.”

“We are vigorously defending against this lawsuit in court,” Fleming-Wolfe said. “The allegations of wrongdoing and illegality are false. He (Eden) is unlikely to recover the relief he is requesting.”

Eden is asking for a determination that Delano violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act with its treatment of the two young women and all relief available under the act, including but not limited to treble damages, punitive damages and civil penalties against the defendant.

He also is asking for all relief available under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, including but not limited to recouping his past and future wage and benefit losses, reinstatement, interest, emotional distress and compensatory damages, expungement of any adverse records compiled in retaliation for protected activity and injunctive and equitable relief. In addition, Eden is asking the court to amend his complaint to add a claim of punitive damages for the Whistleblower Act violation.

In addition, Eden is requesting an award of compensatory damages arising from past and future loss of income, benefits, emotional distress and other damages in excess of $75,000. A related request is for, but not limited to, the value of lost wages and penalties equal to 15 days of his average daily earnings.

Shannon, attorney for Eden, said on Feb. 21 that her client cares about the city of Delano and wants its treatment of employees to change.

“His career was sabotaged,” she said. “This is a plain old retaliation case.”

She continued, “This is a sad situation. Ernie Eden is a true public servant and he was willing to put his career in jeopardy to stand up for the integrity of the city of Delano and the rights of female employees. He lost his job because of it. He is the type of person I would want working in my government.”

In the summons, Shannon says that throughout his employment with Delano, Eden received “positive performance evaluations, positive feedback from his supervisors and the public, and interacted in a productive manner with his employees.”

Prior to Eden’s opposition to alleged gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace, “he had not received any negative feedback or formal or informal discipline of any kind throughout his career,” the summons says.

Shannon feared that Eden’s lawsuit would turn into a mud-slinging case.

The summons in the lawsuit against Delano says that a female public works employee, Megan Bullock, on Aug. 8 filed with the city of Delano a gender harassment complaint against Public Works Foreman Tim Schrupp. The complaint alleged discriminatory treatment of Bullock on the job.

According to the summons, “The same day, another employee came to Plaintiff and complained about Mr. Schrupp’s treatment of the female employees, stating ‘I think that Tim (Schrupp) hates all women no matter who they are.’”

Eden and Shannon describe in the summons what they consider to be the sequence of events that happened in 2013, as follows.

That spring Eden selected a number of seasonal employees to work for the Public Works Department. In May, City Administrator Kern asked Eden why he hired three girls, one of whom had Cameron as a first name.

Eden answered, “Cameron is a 6-foot-3 guy.”

According to the summons, Kern responded, “I don’t want public works becoming all female.”

Also in May, a baseball coach complained about how female employees were maintaining the ball fields, according to the summons. The coach said to Eden, “I want the girls off the fields. Send (two male employees) to do the fields.”

Eden and his attorney say in the summons that the female employees had properly completed all tasks requested by the field coordinator and worked additional hours to complete all required tasks.

When City Administrator Kern discussed the ball fields with Eden, he said, “I think they are being picked on because they are girls.”

The summons also said that Schrupp changed employee assignments when Eden was not in his office and this resulted in Kern telling Eden that he had lost control of public works. Also Kern did not discipline Schrupp “or give him any constructive feedback about his interference or inappropriate comments toward or about the female employees,” the summons said.

The summons goes on to say that a community member told Kern that he had been “watching” the female employees and they were not wearing their seat belts. Eden investigated the claims and found that Schrupp had asked the community member to watch the women. The women said they did wear their seat belts but sometimes pulled them down so they did not rub against their necks.

After that, Eden asked that Delano fire Schrupp. Delano hired an investigator and asked Eden to resign.

Delano’s reaction “was vicious to him,” said Shannon. “His hand has been forced so that it comes to this level.”

Eden said, “My main objective is to get that stuff to stop.” He said he meant the “ongoing illegal activities of the city of Delano.”

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]