Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hearing set in Sun Valley lawsuit

Complaint filed against insurance risk pool group

Express Staff Writer

Parties in a lawsuit filed by Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer against the city, two council members and the city attorney are expected to provide testimony at a hearing Jan. 11.

On Dec. 12, Hammer's attorney, James Donoval, filed a motion in 5th District Court seeking Hammer's reinstatement with the city after she was placed on administrative leave last month.

Hammer filed the lawsuit against the city, Councilman Nils Ribi and City Attorney Adam King. In it, she alleges Ribi committed multiple violations of city policies and procedures, including harassment of her. She later added Councilman Bob Youngman as a defendant. Hammer contends that after she made multiple complaints to the mayor and city attorney about Ribi's behavior, Ribi initiated an investigation of her to seek her termination.

In an affidavit dated Nov. 23, Ribi denied that charge.

"At no time have I ever demanded or even so much as suggested that the Plaintiff be terminated or placed on administrative leave or disciplined in any manner for reporting anything to anyone about me," his affidavit reads.

Hammer had filed a motion for a temporary restraining order seeking an end to her leave, among other requests.

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker denied that motion Nov. 29. The next step in the process is her request for a permanent injunction.

The difference between a motion for a temporary restraining order and request for a permanent injunction is that a temporary restraining order hearing does not include witness testimony, only affidavits and lawyers' arguments. In the January hearing, witnesses will be called, giving the judge further information in the case.

Mayor Wayne Willich declined Thursday to comment on the nature or subject of the investigation, other than to say it is ongoing. He also declined to comment on the suit against the city, and declined to discuss whether any other city employees have been placed on administrative leave.

Willich said last month that Hammer's administrative leave was not a disciplinary action, but Hammer contends that she has not been provided with information about why she was placed on leave.


"There is no question that an investigation of any type against Ms. Hammer, none-the-less the act of placing Ms. Hammer on 'administrative leave', even with pay, are 'adverse actions' against Ms. Hammer ..." states Donoval's motion for preliminary and permanent injunction against the city.

Donoval contends in the motion that the Idaho Supreme Court determined that once an employee has communicated a public official's alleged wrongdoing and an adverse action is taken against the employee, "the burden shifts to the government entity to prove that the investigation or other disciplinary action being taken against the employee is being done for legitimate reasons and not as retaliation against the employee."

"In this case, not only has the City of Sun Valley not provided a legitimate reason for why an adverse action is being taken against Ms. Hammer, the City of Sun Valley has provided no reason whatsoever at this stage as to why Ms. Hammer is either on 'administrative leave' or being investigated in the first place."

In a separate but related suit filed Dec. 13, Hammer is seeking a declaratory judgment about the city's insurance policy with the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program. Hammer states that the organization, which is a risk pool that underwrites insurance policies for Idaho government entities, appointed attorney Kirtlan Naylor with Boise-based Naylor & Hales to defend the city, Ribi, Youngman and King in the initial suit. Hammer states that ICRMP's policy excludes claims relating to harassment, employment or disciplinary action.

"As the entire Hammer Law Suit relates to the disciplinary action and/or termination proceedings against Ms. Hammer, and to Ms. Hammer's allegations of harassment against Council Member Ribi, ICRMP should be denying coverage to the City Of Sun Valley or any of the other three defendants," the complaint states.

In a Dec. 6 letter to ICRMP, Donoval demanded that the organization cease providing defense coverage and damage coverage to the city or to King and Ribi, "and require that they defend and pay any damages related to the matter out of their own resources."

As an employee of Sun Valley, Hammer also contends she should be given legal coverage under ICRMP in regards to the special investigation and her lawsuit.

Naylor did not return a call or an e-mail seeking comment by press time Tuesday.

Rebecca Meany:

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