Ex-city worker files $1.9 million suit against Talent, former manager

TALENT — A former city employee is asking for $1.9 million in a civil suit that alleges the city of Talent and its former manager violated her rights of free speech, the Americans with Disability Act, Oregon's whistle-blower statute and state disabled-workers statutes.

Cheryl Nicolay's attorney, Claud Ingram of Eugene, filed the suit in United States District Court in Medford. Nicolay, who started working for the city in 2004, had her employment terminated by former City Manager Jay Henry on Feb. 17, 2010.

"This one is a little different than all the rest," said Ingram. "You've got a city manager who is doing stuff the City Council doesn't know about."

Ingram has requested a jury trial.

Nicolay is asking for $900,000 in economic damages for lost wages and benefits, $500,000 for non-economic damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Henry, whose tenure as manager was terminated July 1, began working for the city in August 2008. In October of that year he promoted Nicolay to be his executive assistant. In October 2009, Henry demoted her to a lower position.

As a result of the defendants' actions, Nicolay says she has suffered loss of employment, emotional distress, mental anguish, injury to her personal and professional reputation, and her ability to obtain other employment.

Neither Henry nor Nicolay responded to requests for comment.

Nicolay submitted four claims covering free speech, violation of the ADA, interference with employee relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress:

  • The city is alleged to have discouraged employees from reporting or making known violations of laws, city ordinances and wrongdoing by elected and supervisory personnel, a violation of free speech rights.
  • Nicolay is a person with a disability as defined by the ADA and state law, the suit claims. She suffers from multiple disorders that are permanent and can interfere with work and other activities, and Talent did not provide reasonable accommodations to allow Nicolay to perform her work, the suit claims.
  • A claim of interference with employment relations is directed only against Henry. Nicolay represented the union in negotiations in which Henry represented the city. Nicolay claims she was pressured by Henry to agree with his terms and that he asked her to remove herself from the bargaining team. Henry's conduct created a hostile work environment, according to the suit.
  • Henry also was guilty of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the suit claims.

Citycounty Insurance Services, the city's insurer, will represent the city. A spokesperson with the agency did not return calls seeking comment.

Henry is represented by Medford attorney Tracy McGovern, according to Ingram. She did not return calls from a reporter.

Nicolay had previously filed a civil rights complaint alleging harassment by Henry with Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries. She withdrew that action in March.

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