The City Council has agreed to more than $100,000 in payments to settle tort and discrimination claims filed by six city employees.
The action ends pending tort claims and pending notices of charge of discrimination filed against the city and officials by Melissa Clements, Denise Ezell, Kelea Fisher, Kristin Huntley and Meagan Loftis in September 2019 and by Julie Snodgrass in November 2019. All six women were or are employees of the City Attorney’s Office, and have alleged misconduct by former City Attorney Frank Jensen and a lack of action — despite knowledge of numerous allegations — by city administrators and elected officials.
The settlements will be placed on the city tax rolls, according to the motion approved unanimously by council members after they returned from a short executive session. The claims had been discussed numerous times in executive session since the first five were filed in September.
The settlements specify 50/50 division of specific sums allocated to each woman and her attorney. They include: $30,000 to Fisher and her attorney; $25,000 to Loftis and her attorney; $17,500 to Clements and Huntley and their attorneys; and $10,000 to Ezell and Snodgrass and their attorneys.
Council action also directed all authorized attorneys to file the proper documentation settling the claims.
All six women used the same law firm, Leonard & Associates of Oklahoma City, and each sought in excess of $10,000.
The women allege a variety of misconduct by Jensen, who resigned as city attorney in August 2019 but continued to work under the supervision of the city manager until retiring in March after 29 years of service. The city attorney heads the City Attorney’s Office and is one of four city administrators who are hired and fired by the City Council.
The women said Jensen’s pattern of behavior constituted harassment and discrimination, actions that have prompted at least 15 female legal assistants to leave the City Attorney’s office. Major details are similar in the notices of tort claims, although the women also have details specific to their situation. Allegations included: commenting on the age or physical appearance of females when making hiring decisions; engaging in inappropriate actions; berating and demeaning female staff members; and treating similarly-situated and younger male peers more favorably. The notices of discrimination claim sexual harassment, gender discrimination, creation of sexually- or gender-biased hostile work environment, and harassment and discrimination based on age. One woman alleged that Jensen had “used the ‘n’ word in (her) presence, but also repeatedly referred to (her) as ‘Ebony’.”
The women said past employees filed harassment and discrimination complaints against Jensen, and that the city’s upper management and elected officials were aware of those incidents. They said administrators/elected officials took no action and also took “every measure” to hide the fact Jensen was under investigation.
Filing notices of tort claim and discrimination are the first step in a process that could have lead to federal/state lawsuits against the city.