18-year employee quits Ashland parks job, citing ‘daily severe stress and anxiety’

The entrance to the Oak Knoll Golf Course at the southeast corner of Ashland. Ashland.news photo by Bert Etling
September 5, 2022

Laura Chancellor filed suit against Ashland Parks & Recreation in February

By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news 

A woman suing the city of Ashland and its Parks and Recreation Department (APRD) for alleged workplace discrimination has resigned in light of ongoing hostilities, according to a new court filing.

Last Tuesday, attorneys for Laura Chancellor said she quit her job as superintendent of Oak Knoll Golf Course in June due to alleged harassment by co-workers and what they said was the city’s unwillingness to intervene.

Chancellor had been on leave since March, the month after filing her lawsuit, because of “daily severe stress and anxiety” in the workplace, said attorneys. They described her departure as “constructive discharge,” a term used when an employee feels pressured to quit amid a hostile work environment.

Attorneys also said, when they interviewed previous APRD employees, multiple women said they too had quit reluctantly to escape the department’s alleged misogyny and what they characterized as the city’s apathetic attitude.

“Many of these former employees stated that they had made complaints to the APRD and/or the City of Ashland regarding gender based harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and that nothing was done to stop it,” said Chancellor’s attorneys.

Opposition to dismissal

These were just some of the details in Tuesday’s filing, which was submitted in opposition to joint motions seeking dismissal of the suit, filed Aug. 1 by Ashland, APRD and its co-defendants. The joint motions argued Chancellor’s allegations were vague, over-generalized and largely occurred outside the statute of limitations, and asked the court to either dismiss such claims or remove the offending details from the court record.

A hearing to consider the joint motions is scheduled for Sept. 26 in Jackson County Circuit Court before Judge David Hoppe.

Chancellor’s new filing said defendants’ requests for dismissal were baseless, not only because they failed to provide legal or factual grounds for their arguments but because she was prepared to demonstrate how each of her claims were backed by the evidence, as well as state and federal case law.

She also argued, even if the court found deficiencies with her lawsuit, she should be allowed to correct her claims rather than have the whole case thrown out. Chancellor said she already intends to re-file her allegations to address certain points disputed by defendants, and to include new claims such as her resignation under duress.

Others cite ‘Four Horsemen’ term

Chancellor filed suit Feb. 21, claiming APRD Director Michael Black and employees Jason Minica, Chrias Ward and Joe Hyde were engaged in discrimination against and harassment of women and people of differing sexual orientations, and their beligerent attitudes had earned them the office nickname of the “Four Horsemen.” These individuals, as well as city mechanic Mark Trenton, also accused of sexism and harassment, are among co-defendants in the suit.

Chancellor is seeking $850,000, though these damages could change if her claims are amended.

The Aug. 1 motions for dismissal claimed Chancellor assigned this nickname to the defendants without evidence to support her claim, and was simply attempting to disparage them. However, on Tuesday Chancellor’s attorneys said every former employee they have spoken to, including those who did not feel pressured to quit, “raised the issue of the harassment, discrimination and retaliation perpetrated by the ‘Four Horsemen.’ 

“(Former employees) asserted that females have been treated differently from males for over a

decade, and in fact many women told Plaintiff’s counsel that they left employment at APRD due

to the gender bias of the APRD,” said the filing. “In addition, they all referred to the ‘Boy’s Club’ and ‘Four Horseman’ as the culprits in the harassment.”

Limitations misapplied

Chancellor’s lawsuit lays out a decade-plus timeline of alleged discrimination, claiming she had experienced or witnessed many workplace violations during her 18 years with APRD. But it was this very timeline that defendants took issue with in their request for dismissal, not disputing the facts alleged but rather taking exception to their distance in the past.

Defendants argued many allegations exceeded Oregon’s statute of limitations on civil litigation and should not have been included, and should therefore be stricken from the record. They also said such claims, including a reference to five women working in APRD in 2013, and all but Chancellor leaving by 2016, were too vague and overgeneralized for the court to make a determination of wrongdoing.

Chancellor’s attorneys said this was categorically false, pointing out it is common in such a lawsuit to reference past actions as a pattern of wrongdoing, and the statute of limitations does not apply when offenses have been ongoing, as is alleged by Chancellor. 

“Institutional discrimination, retaliation and harassment that has occurred unabated for years, despite multiple complaints, is important context,” said the filing. “It is vitally important that Plaintiff be allowed to show the pattern and practice of the APRD in allowing harassment, discrimination and retaliation to occur against women and those of a different sexual orientation for over a decade, and the City of Ashland, as the enforcing agency, for doing nothing.”

Ready to defend allegations

Chancellor’s attorneys also rejected claims that her allegations were vague or overgeneralized, saying defendants are attempting to downplay and mischaracterize their own patterns of wrongful behavior by accusing Chancellor of embellishment.

“The allegations may be incendiary — and almost unbelievable; yet, they are true and support plaintiff’s similar claims,” said Tuesday’s filing.

Defendants had also argued Chancellor’s claims of retaliation were invalid because she did not meet the definition of a protected whistleblower, as she had reported workplace harassment to human resources (HR) rather than a third party authority. Chancellor’s attorneys said the courts have generally used a broad interpretation of whistleblower protections and Chancellor’s numerous reports to HR would have protected her.

“Plaintiff made multiple, multiple disclosures to the APRD and City of Ashland regarding how she was being subjected to harassment, discrimination and retaliation,” said the filing.

Chancellor has asked the court to deny the motions to dismiss, and if the court determines for any reason that her allegations cannot be accepted at face value she has requested leave to amend them.

Defendants’ attorneys were served with notice of Chancellor’s rebuttal Tuesday morning. As of Friday morning, their reply, if any, had not been filed with the court. There was no immediate response Friday to attempts by Ashland.news to contact the city and APRD for comment.

Email Ashland.news reporter Stephen Floyd at sfloydmedia@gmail.com.

Previous stories on this topic:

Feb. 26, 2022: Ashland Parks & Rec sued for $750K in damages

Aug. 15, 2022: Ashland claims Parks & Rec discrimination suit is invalid

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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