City sued by former attorney

ATTORNEY

Former Boulder City Attorney Steven Morris filed a lawsuit against the city Friday, Dec. 2, alleging his civil rights were violated.

His complaint accuses the city of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, violating the state’s employment practices, and reinstates the claim that he was fired in retaliation for being a witness and substantiating allegations made by several city employees of “religious discrimination, harassment, bullying and creating a hostile work environment” by former Mayor Kiernan McManus.

This is the same claim made in his original lawsuit against the city that was withdrawn in November 2020 because he had not “exhausted his administrative remedies.”

Morris received notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September that he had fulfilled the requirements, exhausted “administrative remedies” and had the right to sue the city.

He said the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, which helped him file his charge of discrimination with the EEOC, closed his case with no findings because some of his claims overlapped with his original, ongoing case that is now awaiting a decision from the Nevada Supreme Court.

The lawsuit is similar to the civil suit filed in late July by former City Manager Alfonso Noyola, who was fired at the same Oct. 13, 2020, meeting as Morris.

Morris said the city now has 45 days to respond to his suit, either by filing a motion to dismiss the case or providing an answer, in which they would generally deny all the allegations.

City Attorney Brittany Walker confirmed the process for filing the lawsuit and needing the “right-to-sue notice from the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)” first.

“Since Mr. Morris has now received the right-to-sue notice he is re-alleging these claims,” she said, adding, “The city is hopeful to have these matters resolved in the near future.”

In addition to his claim of being fired in retaliation for substantiating allegations against the former mayor, Morris’ suit claims the Oct. 13, 2020, meeting violated the open meeting law and several provisions of his employment contract, namely that he could not be terminated within six months before or after a City Council election.

He states that he was not given the severance payment guaranteed by his contract as he did not violate any terms of the employment agreement nor was he convicted of a gross misdemeanor or felony.

He also claims that during the 2½ years he served as city attorney he was never disciplined or reprimanded and that the city had not conducted any performance evaluations. Despite this, the agenda items to consider firing him stated the City Council would consider “his character, alleged misconduct, and/or professional competence.”

According to Morris, he was told a few weeks ago that the entire Supreme Court will rule on the open meeting law violation complaint, without oral arguments. Other complaints regarding contractual issues, harassment and religious discrimination have been put on hold until the original complaint is resolved.

Former Councilwoman Tracy Folda was also named in that suit.

His civil suit asks for a jury trial and that he be awarded an “amount equal to the wages, salary, and benefits” which he would have earned, legal fees, compensatory and punitive damages, funds to pay for any tax liability he may incur, and to restore any benefits he would have been entitled to if he had not been fired.

If Morris had received his severance package when he was terminated, he would have received $259,458.15.

Noyola, who also has not been paid severance, would have received $234,613.97.

An offer by the city in June 2021 to settle the cases — $270,000 for Morris including attorney fees, costs, expenses and interest and $290,000 for Noyola — expired with no response from the former employees.

As of late last month, Bailey Kennedy, the Las Vegas-based legal firm hired to defend the city in this matter, has been paid more than $300,000.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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