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Worker claims harassment, sues city of Duluth | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Published October 30, 2013, 12:00 AM

Worker claims harassment, sues city of Duluth

A city of Duluth Public Works and Utilities Department employee is seeking more than $75,000 in damages for what he calls “repeated and severe harassment” by his employer.

By: Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune

A city of Duluth Public Works and Utilities Department employee is seeking more than $75,000 in damages for what he calls “repeated and severe harassment” by his employer.

Mark Tucker, who has worked for the city for more than 11 years, claims he was demoted and retaliated against after he complained about a hostile work environment that led to stress-related medical conditions. The suit claims that the city’s actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act by failing to make reasonable accommodations for Tucker’s medical conditions and retaliating against him.

“Defendant has retaliated against, discriminated against and disparately treated Plaintiff by taking multiple adverse actions against him,” Duluth attorney Stephanie Balmer wrote in the complaint. “As a result of Defendant’s discriminatory treatment of Plaintiff, Plaintiff has suffered wage loss, loss of various employment benefits, and emotional distress.”

City Attorney Gunnar Johnson notified the City Council of the lawsuit Tuesday and said the city has 20 days to respond. He declined to comment further to the News Tribune. Jim Benning, the director of public works and utilities for the city, did not return a call seeking comment regarding Tucker’s allegations.

According to Tucker’s lawsuit:

Tucker was hired by the city as a water quality specialist in August 2002. During a 2010 restructuring, Tucker fell under supervision of new managers, who targeted and harassed him. The suit makes no mention of Tucker’s work record before 2010.

As a result of the harassment, Tucker developed several stress-related medical conditions, including high blood pressure and chest pains in 2011, the suit alleges. Tucker then moved into a temporary light duty job in the park maintenance department.

When Tucker returned to his job as a water control specialist in November 2011, his medical conditions were again aggravated by the hostile work environment, and doctors ordered him to take time off or work in a less stressful environment, the suit says.

Tucker took a leave from work and intended to use his sick pay. His union’s contract with the city allotted up to 120 days of full pay and benefits for any new illness. However, the city placed him on long-term disability, which reduced his pay by 35 percent and limited his benefits.

Tucker filed a grievance through his union, AFSCME Council 5, Local 66, and an arbitrator ruled in his favor, ordering the city to pay him for 120 days of sick leave.

At some point, a city human resources employee also contacted Tucker’s occupational medicine specialist about Tucker’s medical conditions without his knowledge or consent, according to the suit.

Tucker returned to his job in October 2012. Then, in February 2013, he was told there would be a “reduction in force” in his department and his position was eliminated. Tucker, although not the least senior member of the department, was the only water control specialist to be eliminated. Additionally, the collective bargaining agreement with the city specified that the position is a lifetime appointment, the suit contends.

After filing another grievance, Tucker was given the job of utility operator, a lesser-paying position, and his requests to move into other departments were denied. He remains employed by the city.

Damages are sought for wage loss, loss of benefits, emotional distress and attorney’s fees.

via Worker claims harassment, sues city of Duluth | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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