Clerk sues Nevada City
Nevada City’s long-time city clerk Cathy Wilcox-Barnes on Monday sued the City of Nevada City, alleging wrongful termination, whistle-blower violations, defamation and numerous other allegations.
The lawsuit by the former office supervisor – which has been anticipated for months – is asking for an unspecified amount in excess of $50,000 for lost back pay and employment benefits, deprivation of career opportunities and other economic losses.
City officials have stated previously that the damage request could be as high as $2.5 million, but Wilcox-Barnes’ attorney wouldn’t provide any specifics.
“I haven’t hired an expert yet to figure it out yet. I don’t know,” her attorney M. Catherine Jones said.
The 23-page lawsuit, filed in Nevada County Superior court, alleges that Wilcox-Barnes has “suffered great anxiety, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, loss of enjoyment of life and severe emotional distress” as a result of her treatment by the city. It seeks a jury trial.
The suit places most of the blame on City Manager Mark Miller, who allegedly retaliated against Wilcox-Barnes and created a “hostile work environment,” among other charges.
The friction between Wilcox-Barnes and Miller, who worked together for four years, had been reported before. But the suit outlines more details, including alleged yelling and locking her out of her office. (Go to http://www.theunion.com to read the lawsuit).
Miller said Monday he hadn’t seen the suit yet and said city policy prevented him from commenting on the litigation. City Attorney Jim Anderson did not return phone calls from the Union on Monday.
Wilcox-Barnes was put on paid administrative leave April through June of 2006 during an independent investigation into the city’s finances. A report was issued that stated the city could be losing as much as $400,000 in water, sewer and business license fees, but it was later determined to be a lower figure, said City Councilwoman Sheila Stein.
Wilcox-Barnes’ recommendations to the city to look into water and sewer fee structures and requests for help with her increasing workload went ignored, according to the suit.
In the lawsuit, Miller is charged with retaliating against Wilcox-Barnes when she questioned a 20-year-old environmental report for the proposed Nevada City Tech Center in December 2005.
She questioned the city’s processing of the application, stating it left the city “vulnerable to a challenge.” She wrote that “my reservations are not based on the qualities of the project but on the inadequacies of the public process,” the lawsuit said.
According to the suit, Miller allegedly took a number of “inappropriate actions,” including “undermining her job performance,” “taking away more of her executive, administrative and professional job responsibilities,” and creating “a hostile work environment.”
The suit also charges Miller with “losing his temper and yelling at her on numerous occasions.” On April 25, 2005, the suit accused Miller of “locking her out of her office and placing her on the administrative leave which resulted in her termination.”
From June 2002 to April 2006, Wilcox-Barnes’ job responsibilities continued to increase and she routinely worked 50 and 60 hours a week, and she never received any type of job evaluation, the suit charges.
The suit also said Wilcox-Barnes’ rights to due process were violated at a closed council session on April 25, 2006, allegedly held in violation of the Brown Act. She alleges that the majority of the closed session was spent discussing her position.
Wilcox-Barnes is serving a four-year term as city clerk.
In June, the City Council voted 4-1 to create a finance manager position and eliminate the Office Operations Supervisor position Wilcox-Barnes had held for nearly 20 years. Catrina Andes was hired as the new finance manager in January.
Councilwoman Stein says the lawsuit was expected. “Let’s just get this part of City Hall behind us,” she said. ” It’s just a chapter that needs to close.”
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab @theunion.com or call 477-4231.
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