Longtime employee’s lawsuit was dismissed, then reinstated
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
The City of Ashland is seeking dismissal of an $850,000 lawsuit alleging rampant sexism and discrimination among Parks and Recreation Department employees, claiming the allegations themselves are invalid.
On Aug. 1, Ashland filed a motion in Jackson County Circuit Court to dismiss a suit filed Feb. 21 by Oak Knoll Golf Course Superintendent Laura Chancellor, who claims she and other female employees were subjected to deep-rooted and unchecked misogyny during her 18 years of employment.
The department and four named defendants similarly filed a motion Aug. 2 asking for dismissal of all claims against them, arguing Chancellor’s accusations were too generalized and drew conclusions that should be reached at trial.
A hearing to consider these motions is scheduled for Aug. 29 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Claim of institutional discrimination
Chancellor claims four male co-workers, allegedly known in the office as “The Four Horsemen” due to their coarse behavior, created a hostile work environment that ranged from casual sexism, racism and homophobia to cutting her out of her supervisor responsibilities on the grounds that her gender and sexuality disqualified her from a leadership position.
The suit identified “The Four Horsemen” as Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission Director Michael Black and employees Jason Minica, Chrias Ward and Joe Hyde, who are named personally in the suit, along with city mechanic Mark Trenton.
Chancellor’s original suit sought $750,000, then an amended complaint was filed June 5 that clarified the legal arguments of her 12 claims of wrongdoing and sought an additional $100,000 in non-economic damages.
The defendants’ requests for dismissal did not deny Chancellor’s allegations or offer a different narrative, but instead challenged the legal grounds upon which her claims were made.
Specifically, the motions took issue with multiple details Chancellor used to described a pattern of harassment and discrimination beginning early in her 18 years with the department.
The defendants argued that, because these allegations occurred well beyond the statute of limitations for which Chancellor and others could take legal action, they should be stricken from the record.
The motions also argued many alleged instances of harassment were vague or generalized, such as Chancellor’s claim that five women, including herself, worked for the department in 2013, but by 2016 Chancellor was the only female employee left. Defendants said these allegations were insubstantial and could not support a claim of discimination, and as such the court should simply dismiss them.
Additionally, the motions claimed Chancellor’s allegations did not meet the legal definitions of retaliation against a whistleblower. It said Chancellor did not suffer retaliation as described in the law because she ultimately was not fired, while complaining about the alleged harassment to human resources was not protected under whistleblowing laws.
The defendants asked that Chancellor’s suit be dismissed entirely and that allegations pertaining to events prior to 2017 be stricken from the record. As of Friday, records did not show that Chancellor had filed a motion in opposition to these requests.
Dismissal and reinstatement
The suit was actually dismissed June 22 and later reinstated, but not in response to defendants. After the suit was filed Feb. 21, 90 days passed without any action from either plaintiff or defendants and the court slated the matter for summary dismissal due to inactivity.
After the suit was formally dismissed June 22, Chancellor’s attorney Thomas Dimitre, of Ashland, informed the court a death in his family and other personal matters had occupied his time, and said he had been in communication with counsel for the defendants to ensure they were aware of his obligations.
Dimitre said the amended complaint and a June 5 motion to remove Judge Timothy Gerking from the case were evidence of continuing efforts to resolve the matter, and on July 29 Judge David Hoppe reinstated the suit.
Email Ashland.news reporter Stephen Floyd at email@example.com.