Former Economic Development Manager Charlene Coulombe-Fiore sues City

Charlene Coulombe-FioreThe City of Northfield has been hit with a disability and gender discrimination lawsuit, filed by former Economic Development Manager Charlene Coulombe-Fiore.

Posted to the Nfld News website at 3pm today: Former employee alleges discrimination in federal suit (continued)

… Coulombe-Fiore said she was pressured to fire an employee based on the employee’s daughter’s medical costs, and that Coulombe-Fiore was forced to resign after being diagnosed with a heart condition, according to a civil complaint filed last week.  The suit also alleges that three male members of the Economic Development Authority met with then-City Administrator Al Roder two days after she was hired to complain that a woman got the job.

20 thoughts on “Former Economic Development Manager Charlene Coulombe-Fiore sues City”

  1. I sincerely hope, as painful as it is to relive all this period of NF’s civic history, that this lawsuit will go a long way to bring out the insidious (IMO) culture that was prevailing in City Hall during that administration.

    It is my understanding that this type of lawsuit must be approved by the Federal govt as to the applicability of it under federal law. Not a large ratio of submitted cases get approved. Therefor I would have to guess that this case was evaluated as having merit.

    Many (maybe most?) cases like this are settled out of court; I would think NF would be anxious to do so given the accusation re: pressuring one employee to fire another employee because of a child’s health problem. A jury would not look kindly on that, if proven, especially in this heightened awareness of unaffordable health care.

    It is courageous of Ms. Coulombe-Fiore to choose to put herself through this ordeal; in the end it has the possibility of bringing problems to light and possibly even solving some.

    Don’t be tempted to look on this as a negative development, all problems require resolution if they are not to continue.

  2. For reference:

    May 7, 2008 Nfld News: EDA manager: I was told I didn’t ‘fit in’

    In a letter to the EDA that she released to the public Thursday, she said “The degree of effort and success and performance I have provided during a time of chaos, surely should provide me with more than a five minute window where I am told I do not fit in.”

    View the letter at: http://www.northfieldnews.com/photos/char_letter.pdf

    The PDF of her letter has been removed from the site

    May 9, 2008 Nfld News editorial: Manager’s departure raises questions.

  3. The City Administrator’s Friday reports are noted both here at LG, and on the NFNews website, as well as of course being posted on the City’s website. Unless I missed it, I have seen no mention in those reports of this large federal law based lawsuit, which could have a very large monetary consequence to the city (regardless if it is settled out of court or goes to the requested jury trial) and the city’s finances, and is therefor of interest to the citizens.

    When the city’s legal bills have been large, it engenders discussion at the council, and sometimes blame is implied as to the cause of these bills, which have escalated greatly in the past two years.

    So my question would be: Since at some point lawsuits and their resultant costs become a matter of council/public concern, should they not be noticed in the Administrator’s Friday memo as the initial step in that dialogue?

  4. David Hvistendahl and I spoke about the causes of action asserted in the complaint during our firm’s radio show, “The Law Review,” yesterday on KYMN. You should be able to podcast it by now. (Our show was on Monday this week, instead of Tuesday, due to the Twins game, I am told). In any event, Kiffi, a lawsuit such as this does not have to be approved in advance by the federal government. The court system has not made any sort of preliminary review of it. You may be thinking of the requirement that an employee with a grievance under Title VII must first file a claim with the EEOC, prior to asserting a TITLE VII civil rights cause of action in a court of law. The EEOC does a very preliminary review, then typically declines to pursue the matter any further. Rarely does the EEOC take any action. Assuming the EECO chooses to take no further action and conduct no further investigation, the EEOC must, by statute, send a “Notice of Right to Sue” letter to the employee, saying basically, we decline to investigave further, but now you, employee, have the right to sue this out in court. During our radio show, David Hv. and I did not have time to touch on this subject of the EEOC and right to sue letters, because a half-hour seems to fly by…but we tried to hit the various causes of action alleged in the complaint.

  5. Interesting you would take my picture from the Upper Lakes Foods Grande Event and place it on here???
    Sad to see it is more popular to hear sad news, than the good news which rated what 3% when this new company came in and brought jobs, investment, taxes and great things to Northfield. Exposure for one.

  6. There’s an article about this lawsuit against the City in today’s Star Tribune which puts things into a larger perspective than the local paper.

    More troubles erupting from their origins in a troubled time …

    1. Kiffi- The allegations presented in this article would lend some credence to the fears about who is going to be making decisions about health care coverage under the government provided health care proposals in Congress right now.

    1. Jane- Sorry I did not get back to your question right away. I’ve been tied up with a new grand daughter, whose birth was accompanied with some unforseen medical complications. One of the problems with our current health care system that seems to be causing concern is the whole concept of a business entity making decisions about what care is going to be provided for whom. From these allegations, it would appear to me that we will be dealing with the same issues under a government plan. This seems expecially likely since we do not have the money to fund such a plan. Besides, Roder is only mentioned in the article as leaving during the upheavel. There was no mention in the allegations that Roder was one of the male administrators who had a problem with a woman in the position, so I doubt he would qualify for a position on the “death panel”.

  7. The Council will be having a closed session with their attorney from the League of MN Cities, prior( 6:30) to the regular council meeting on September 14th, regarding this case, which would be in Federal Court.

    I think one of the most interesting conflicts in this case is the alleged discrimination by the EDA members who complained to Administrator Roder about hiring a woman! They certainly knew they could not comfortably do that in their bank or business workplace. Very bizarre.

    1. Kiffi- This alleged discrimination is not a matter of comfort. It is blatently illegal. Perhaps the charges of cronyism within the city machinations are valid. And if it happened as alleged, it is bizarre!

    2. I was unclear why the allegation of the EDA members is relevant to this lawsuit. If I understand the nature of the EDA correctly, the members are unpaid appointed citizens — not employees of the City of Northfield — right? Is the City really responsible for their actions?

      It’s addressed in the KYMN Hvistendahl discussion, too. As they point out, that complaint would have to be somehow linked to her firing. Considering that her firing occurred almost a year later and by all appearances for a very different reason, mentioning the sex discrimination of the EDA members seems like a stretch.

    3. Sean: I think the relevance depends on the ultimate definition of who is, or is not, a “public official”. that definition seems to wander all over the place depending on the circumstances.
      Possibly the most important relevance is to the alleged negative environment over the eleven months of the employee’s time at City hall with the final reason given for dismissal, i.e. “you don’t fit in”. To fire a person who reportedly had no negative comments in her evaluations up to the dismissal date with the statement that “you don’t fit in” is either weak , prejudicial, or just plain unallowable as a cause for dismissal.
      Bottom line, some of the allegations may just go to the establishment of the work environment.

    4. I agree: If true, “you don’t fit in” would certainly not be an acceptable reason for dismissal.

      It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court, what incriminating or exculpatory evidence will be brought to light, and what what will finally be proven to be true.

  8. In Joel Walinski’s Friday Memo yesterday:

    Coulumbe-Fiore
    The City of Northfield on April 15 reached a settlement with a former city employee on a federal lawsuit. The agreement between the city and Charlene Coulumbe-Fiore was reached with a federal magistrate judge. According to the agreement, the city – through its insurer, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust – will pay Fiore $39,000. Fiore will be required to pay her own costs and attorneys fees from this amount. Fiore also will drop all claims against the city, including the federal lawsuit.

    The city’s insurer sought to resolve the matter due to economic factors. The costs of the litigation in attorneys fees and time, as well as continued impact of city staff time, was projected to exceed the cost of the settlement. The city does not admit to any wrongdoing or liability in this case. Fiore sued the City after she resigned from her EDA Manager position during May 2008.

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