by Valerie Verkamp
A $40,000 settlement has been reached following a year long employment lawsuit against the City of Parkville that alleged discrimination based on age, sex, race and retaliation in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Some specific allegations in the lawsuit were aimed at Lauren Palmer, city administrator.
The settlement happened out of court before a jury panel could be sworn in to hear the legal arguments raised by Kirk Rome, former public works director, who was fired on Aug. 21, 2014.
Under the Missouri Human Rights Act, employees are protected from adverse employment actions based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability and age.
On June 3, 2015, Rome filed the lawsuit in Platte County Circuit Court alleging Palmer treated him adversely and terminated his employment citing performance problems without following the existing five-step disciplinary steps of action. He contends he received a verbal warning on April 3, 2014 and was fired four months later without receiving a written warning, suspension or reduction in title.
Rome, who is over the age of 40, alleged Palmer treated him in a “berating and demeaning” way during the course of his employment and told him, “You know what you are doing.” The lawsuit alleged Palmer would make comments that Rome has “worn her down” and that she “didn't know how to supervise” him.
Following a meeting where Palmer questioned him about delays in a project, Rome said he was asked to sign a verbal warning document insinuating he didn't know what he was doing.
According to the lawsuit, on May 19, 2014, Rome filed a written complaint to Mayor Nan Johnston. Attorney Molly Walsh was obtained on behalf of the city to investigate Rome’s complaint. The city says no evidence was found to confirm the allegations.
When Rome’s employment was terminated three months later, he filed a letter with the Missouri Commission of Human Rights (MCHR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discrimination and retaliation. Rome was awarded a right-to-sue letter and followed through with filing a lawsuit.
Rome claims he was treated differently than other employees due to his age and asked the court to award compensatory damages for lost wages.
The lawsuit points to a statement Palmer allegedly made after inquiring about the makeup of individuals of the Platte County Regional Sewer District Board. In response to their race and age, Palmer allegedly replied, “Oh great, a bunch of middle-aged white men just like the rest of Platte County.”
That remark was cited in the lawsuit several times aiming to suggest that age, sex and race were discriminatory factors depriving Rome of his employment, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendants' conduct was willful, wanton, and malicious, and showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the rights of others, including the rights of the plaintiff, thus justifying an award of punitive damages in the amount sufficient to punish defendants or to deter them and other companies or municipalities from like conduct in the future,” stated the petition.
In court filings, the City of Parkville and Palmer denied all allegations. The city maintained it is not liable for any claims or wrongdoings.
City officials say the settlement, approved by the Parkville Board of Aldermen in a vote of 4-3 on Sept. 20, was a compromise to settle the lawsuit and avoid the expenses of a trial.
Nine days later, Palmer announced she is resigning as city administrator to take a city manager’s position with Independence, Mo. Her last day with Parkville is scheduled to be Nov. 4.
Rome releases all claims made in the lawsuit and cannot seek equitable relief in the future, according to the terms of the settlement.
The city's liability coverage carrier, Midwest Public Risk will pay out the $40,000 settlement to Rome and his attorney, Ryan Paulus. A $20,000 payment for personal injury and emotional distress will be paid to Rome and a $20,000 payment will be made for attorney fees and legal costs.
The settlement prohibits the City of Parkville from telling Rome's future prospective employers information beyond his dates of employment, job title and rate of pay.