Friday, June 27, 2014

Federal court dismisses most of Hammer case

Ruling based on waiver of right to sue

Express Staff Writer

    A federal judge has ruled that former Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer waived her right to sue the city when she accepted six months’ severance pay for her termination without cause in January 2012.    
    In a decision issued June 17, Judge Edward J. Lodge dismissed all but two of 14 claims filed by Hammer and Jim Donoval, her husband and sometimes attorney, against the city, former City Council President Nils Ribi and Mayor DeWayne Briscoe in U.S. District Court for Idaho in May 2013.
    Lodge ruled that Hammer agreed to waive her right to sue in an “unambiguous” contract stating that the severance payment would be her “sole exclusive remedy.”
    The ruling left two claims intact: deprivation of due process and alleged assault of Hammer by Ribi.
    Donoval said in an interview that their attorney has filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision.

Ms. Hammer is a knowledgeable person who … was advised by her legal counsel and husband before signing the release.”
Judge Edward J. Lodge
U.S. District Court for Idaho

    Hammer was one of several city employees who allegedly used a city credit card for personal expenses and failed to account for personal leave, according to a December 2011 letter to the council from Boise investigator Patricia Ball. Then-Mayor Wayne Willich commissioned Ball’s investigation following complaints from Michelle Frostenson, former finance manager and treasurer. After reviewing Ball’s findings, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas did not file criminal charges against any city employee due to insufficient evidence, as stated in his Nov. 21, 2012, letter to the council. Former Sun Valley City Clerk Kelly Ek told the Idaho Mountain Express in July 2012 that Hammer behaved unprofessionally in the workplace and exaggerated charges of harassment by Ribi.
    Hammer’s and Donoval’s suit presents 14 cases of alleged mistreatment by Ribi and Briscoe, including gender discrimination and harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and infliction of emotional distress.
    Hammer asserted that she was harassed and assaulted by Ribi during her three-and-a-half-year stint as city administrator. The plaintiffs state in their complaint that Ribi and others “trumped up” Hammer’s alleged workplace infractions, causing her to be put on administrative leave twice and finally fired.
    They also state that Ribi acted with hostility toward both plaintifs due to Donoval’s political affiliations. Donoval lost a bid for a state Senate seat on the Republican ticket in 2010.
    The complaint alleged that in the events that unfolded after Hammer’s termination, the defendants publically made negative statements that damaged her personal and professional reputation.
    Hammer asserted that she was coerced into signing a waiver in accepting the severance package. However, the court concluded that Hammer’s release of claims was “voluntary, deliberate and informed” when she accepted the severance payment.
    “Ms. Hammer is a knowledgeable person who worked in a professional capacity for the city for several years and was advised by her legal counsel and husband before signing the release,” the decision states.

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