EEOC warns PTC Police Chief Clark: Stop intimidating witnesses
‘... [T]he Commission has reason to believe that you may be engaging in conduct which has the effect of controlling or intimidating witnesses who could be required to testify during (the) investigation.’
Peachtree City Police Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark has been warned to “cease and desist” intimidating witnesses in a discrimination case pending before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
What started in February 2011 as an EEOC complaint by former Peachtree City Police staff assistant Lisa Ficalore against Chief Clark on grounds of discrimination due to gender and disabilities has turned into two amended charges in April 2011 and an April 2012 letter from the Atlanta EEOC director telling Clark that the commission has reason to believe that he engaged in conduct that amounts to controlling or intimidating witnesses in Ficalore’s complaint.
A new filing on May 18 by Ficalore is charging retaliation over the elimination of her full-time position with benefits in City Hall earlier this month by the City Council. Ficalore’s was the only actively-filled position eliminated.
In mid-April, Atlanta EEOC Director Bernice Williams-Kimbrough sent Clark a letter informing him that the letter serves as a request to cease and desist from engaging in any conduct that could hamper, impede or affect the outcome of the EEOC investigation into the Ficalore complaint.
“The Commission believes it is currently in possession of sufficient information to justify filing a petition in the federal district court for preliminary injunctive relief to stop such conduct,” the letter said.
“... [T]he Commission has reason to believe that you may be engaging in conduct which has the effect of controlling or intimidating witnesses who could be required to testify during (the) investigation. Any attempt to intimidate, coerce or retaliate against witnesses or otherwise affect witness testimony in an ongoing investigation is strictly prohibited.”
Referencing federal law, Williams-Kimbrough noted that anyone who compromises the integrity of a federal administrative investigation can be subject to a fine and/or imprisoned for up to five years.
Supporting Ficalore’s position, and filed with the second amendment to the complaint, were notes from city Human Resources Administrator Ellece Brown, who had documented two conversations with Maj. Mike Dupree, now retired, and one conversation with Capt. Stan Pye. Dupree was the second in command of the department under both Chief Clark and former Chief James Murray.
Though Ficalore’s name was not specifically mentioned in Brown’s notes on the conversations with Dupree and Pye, Ficalore’s attorney Ed Buckley last week said that he had no doubt that their comments pertained to Ficalore and/or the internal investigation of the EEOC complaint.
Brown in the first conversation with Dupree, on March 16, 2011, began with Dupree saying he was concerned about what was going on in the police department.
Dupree told Brown that people were talking about many different things and that “everybody is very antsy.” Dupree referenced a conversation that Capt. Stan Pye said he had with Clark earlier in the day. Dupree said he had a similar conversation with Clark.
“Major further explained that everyone was afraid of retaliation. You don’t know who to trust; that’s why he was talking in a low voice to me. All of us feel under the gun. ‘It’s not a good work environment,’” Brown said in her notes of Dupree’s comments.
A second conversation between Brown and Dupree occurred on March 21, 2011. Brown’s notes said that Dupree told Clark he did not want to put himself in the middle of the situation at which point Clark replied, “Well, you are in the middle of it,” adding that he wanted Dupree to have his back.
“Major Dupree said, ‘I am going to tell the truth.’ Major Dupree explained that Chief Clark was really upset. Chief Clark said that he has got to know that Major Dupree is going to get his back. Then Chief Clark said, ‘If you don’t get my back, it will be bad,’” Brown’s notes said.
Ficalore’s amendment also contained Brown’s notes from a March 16, 2011 conversation with Capt. Stan Pye that was made to confirm an appointment that day with city attorney Ted Meeker and Doug Duerr that had been scheduled by Human Resources. Pye had notified Clark of the scheduled meeting and asked if he was in trouble.
“The chief responded that it depended on how Stan answered his questions. Stan was perplexed and asked me if this meant he was in trouble with the chief if he answered questions in a certain way. Stan further explained that this was the climate in the police department. ‘Everybody is scared to death.’ Stan stated that the chief told him several months ago that it was easy to get rid of people. He said he could get rid of people in one day. Stan believes that if certain questions are asked in this matter, things could get really ugly. He is concerned about this and his job,” according to Brown’s notes.
Pertaining to the second amended charge, Buckley in April 2012 wrote to Atlanta EEOC representative David Hendrickson stating that it appears that Clark is engaged in the active intimidation of at least two witnesses in Ficalore’s complaint. Buckley asked that EEOC investigate.
For the city’s part, City Manager Jim Pennington on Tuesday said he had not seen the letter from EEOC to Clark and, besides that, he could have no comment since the matter involves an EEOC complaint and the city does not comment on those matters.
The various filings in the EEOC case include allegations such as Ficalore being subject to a hostile work environment based on gender and disabilities, that she was denied training that others received, that Clark changed Ficalore’s score on a performance evaluation to a lower score, that Peachtree City Police Capt. Stan Pye and former Maj. Mike Dupree based on conversations with Clark told city Human Resources Administrator Ellece Brown that “everyone is afraid of retaliation” and that “everybody is scared to death.”
Documents provided by Ficalore’s attorney, Ed Buckley, also show an April letter from EEOC Atlanta Director Bernice Williams-Kimbrough advising Clark that the Commission has reason to believe that he may be engaging in conduct which has the effect of controlling or intimidating witnesses in the case.
And finally, the most recent filing on May 18 alleges retaliation for the elimination of Ficalore’s full-time job in City Hall effective June 1.
The initial EEOC complaint was filed in February 2011 by former Peachtree City Police staff assistant Lisa Ficalore alleging discrimination based on gender and disabilities. Prior to Clark’s hire in 2008, Ficalore had served as administrative assistant to former Chief James Murray.
Ficalore in the February 2011 complaint claimed that Clark demoted her and cut her pay in October 2008 when her position was “reclassified” from administrative assistant to staff assistant.
“In October 2008, Chief Clark asked the City Council to reclassify me, lower my job title, pay grade and class level as well as my pay and max-out salary while telling me he fought hard to avoid my pay being affected,” the complaint said.
Ficalore in the complaint also contends that she received a score of “5 out of a possible 5” that is equivalent to “outstanding” on her job performance evaluations for six consecutive years prior to Clark’s arrival. Things changed in October 2009 when she received a score of “3” on her evaluation, the complaint said.
The complaint notes that Ficalore suffers from chronic endometriosis and chronic allergies and has had to take medical leaves to treat those problems, with five surgeries in the past nine years. Ficalore said Clark was documenting her sick time and had sent her supervisors to the city’s human resources department to inquire “what they could ‘do to me’ because of my use of sick time.”
Ficalore said things changed even more in 2010 maintaining that Clark changed the score on her performance evaluation after it had been completed by her immediate supervisor.
“Between October 2010 and December 2010 I received three separate evaluations prior to finally getting my final evaluation two months late. I was told by my immediate supervisor, Claudia Stapleton, that this was due to the chief changing the scores she had written in. Claudia scored me in the high ‘4s’ and the chief lowered it to a low ‘3.’ Ms. Stapleton was clear with me that she did not agree with the chief and that I was doing a wonderful job and that she would have given me a higher score,” the complaint said.
The February 2011 complaint stated that in August 2010 Clark required Ficalore to provide notes concerning her condition and prognosis and that in January 2011 prior to a scheduled surgery she was told to train a police sergeant who was on light duty to temporarily replace her. Later the same day she was told that she would be temporarily assigned to City Hall.
Ficalore in the February 2011 complaint also stated that she had been made to work in a hostile work environment, that she “experienced negative gender stereotypes from some of my coworkers and from the new chief in particular,” that Clark had told others that she was “useless” and that “he wants to get rid of me.” Ficalore said that Clark on one occasion wrote her up “for being two minutes late to work.” And Ficalore maintains that in April 2010 she was denied training that others received.
An amendment to the February 2011 complaint was filed with EEOC in April of that year. The amendment, a claim of retaliation, stated that Ficalore believed she had been singled out due to her gender, had suffered a number of adverse actions and had been repeatedly singled out by Clark. This type of work environment continued until she was transferred out of the police department.
Another portion of the April 2011 amendment stated Ficalore’s belief that the retaliation was also a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
A second amended charge to the discrimination complaint was filed with EEOC in April 2012. In that amendment Ficalore said she had repeatedly applied for positions with Peachtree City for which she was well-qualified but had been rejected in favor of less-qualified applicants.
“Recently, I learned that the determination had been made not to transfer me out of my current position (in City Hall) as long as my EEOC charge is pending. I am not allowed to work comp time. I have been denied the opportunity to take vacation. I have been written up for taking even small increments of time off without pay. I have learned that since I filed my charge of discrimination the chief of police has intimidated witnesses, telling one that if he didn’t ‘get his back’ things would be ‘bad’ and to another that it is ‘easy to get rid of people.’”
Ficalore has remained at City Hall since her transfer there to a front desk position in January 2009. But that is about to change due to a move approved by the City Council earlier this month. Pennington in a proposal to reorganize City Hall recommended, and the council approved, that Ficalore’s position be eliminated and two part-time positions without benefits be created. No other currently filled jobs in City Hall were recommended for elimination. Ficalore in response filed another document with EEOC alleging retaliation for the action that eliminates her full-time job.
“Shortly after I filed my second amended charge (on April 12, 2012), I was denied FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave. I have learned that my supervisor started keeping notes on her computer concerning my comings and goings on April 12. On May 16, my position was eliminated effective June 1. I have been given a choice between taking a part-time position and six weeks of severance. In the part-time position I lose not only my salary, but also my pension which will accrue at a much lower rate now, sick leave, medical and dental insurance, life insurance, short-term and long-term disability and the employer contribution to my 401k/457 plan, vacation, holiday pay and overtime pay. My employer did this knowing that because of my disability I need the sick leave and the short-term and long-term disability leave,” Ficalore said in the May 18 retaliation filing.
For Lisa Ficalore, her time in Peachtree City government will either end on June 1 or will continue in a part-time position with a loss of benefits.
As for what the future holds and in terms of a law suit being filed, Buckley said, “If the city doesn’t rectify it that’s the next step.”