Gardner files new lawsuit against city

Erin E. Gardner, former Watertown Parks and Recreation superintendent, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city over her termination. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Former city Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner has filed a second lawsuit against the city, claiming that she was discriminated against and that she worked in a hostile work environment.

Ms. Gardner filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court. Syracuse, claiming that the city failed to protect her against a hostile work environment created by former City Manager Richard M. Finn, who resigned in January 2019.

She has claimed she was wrongfully fired.

Previously, she filed two complaints with the state Division of Human Rights against the city. She withdrew the complaints, so she could file the federal lawsuit, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said Wednesday.

“We were told that she was going to file,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised.”

The federal lawsuit alleges Mr. Finn hollered at her in front of other department heads on at least two occasions. It also alleges she was treated differently than male department heads.

The lawsuit also claims she was sexually discriminated against. In the court papers, she claimed that Mr. Finn laughed at her at a Gay Pride event after she introduced him to her girlfriend. The court papers mention she is bisexual.

Their relationship had previously deteriorated after they disagreed on a plan to combine the grounds crews of the public works department and the parks and recreation department.

As a result of the disagreement, Ms. Gardner has claimed that he retaliated against her by taking away her compensatory time.

In the court papers, Ms. Gardner claims her career in public service was ruined from the city’s treatment of her and she “suffered catastrophic harm to her intended career trajectory.”

She suffered emotionally and physically from stress, anxiety and depression after the city retaliated against her and after being suspended and eventually fired by City Manager Kenneth A. Mix, according to court papers.

She’s seeking the loss of income for the pain she suffered from the way the city treated her. The lawsuit doesn’t mention a dollar amount she’s suing for.

The Syracuse law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King is handling the lawsuit for the city. Rochester attorney James D. Hartt is representing Ms. Gardner.

In February, she also filed an Article 78 petition in state Supreme Court challenging her termination. Judge James P. McClusky automatically sent that proceeding to the state Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, Rochester, where it is still pending.

Mr. Finn resigned after the city retained an outside consultant to investigate the claims that he created a hostile work environment.

A disciplinary hearing was then held, which determined that Ms. Gardner was guilty of insubordination and misconduct regarding the way she handled her allegations against Mr. Finn.

The city claimed that she talked to the media about her claims against Mr. Finn and went out of the chain of command by discussing the issue with City Council members.

Mr. Mix terminated her on Nov. 10 of last year.

Ms. Gardner could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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