|Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison has filed a one-page claim, the probable prelude to a lawsuit, against the city. (View Harrison's claim against the city)
In the April 20 document, Harrison asks for "unknown/accruing" payments to compensate for an invasion of privacy and attorneys' fees.
City Attorney Gary Baum, the City Council, and the person who wrote the anonymous letter informing the Weekly of her suspension are at fault, Harrison's claim states.
Harrison was suspended for three weeks without pay following a $23,000 investigation that found Harrison guilty of years of abusive, vindictive, retaliatory and inappropriate behavior.
She returned to work April 10 and City Manager Frank Benest and five council members have said they are ready to put the incident behind them.
Harrison -- through attorney Jeremy Pasternak, of San Francisco, who has not returned numerous phone calls from the Weekly -- filed the claim just days before more than 200 pages of documents related to the investigation were released following a state Public Records Act request by the Weekly and the Palo Alto Daily News.
The council gave Baum its approval to release the documents, Vice Mayor Larry Klein said.
Previously, on April 5 or 6, Harrison appealed her discipline through the city's internal grievance process, according to Santa Monica attorney Melanie Poturica, who is on contract to handle employment, labor and personnel issues for the city.
Poturica, of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, is the city's "single point of contact on issues related to Emily Harrison," City Attorney Gary Baum said via an assistant. Baum and other city attorneys were at a conference in Monterey this week, office employees said.
Poturica is responsible for handling both the claim and the appeal, which are two distinct processes that will be addressed in parallel rather than sequentially, she said.
Both are unusual, however.
Baum said earlier that although the city receives scores of claims, only two or three per year stem from an employee. The city cannot allow the filing of a claim to affect its judgment of the employee's performance, he said.
Poturica said it is likely she will reject the claim.
Unless an attorney or risk manager believes a claim is valid, cities usually reject claims, East Palo Alto City Attorney Michael Lawson said.
According to state law, most lawsuits against cities require a claim to be filed first, Lawson said.
Poturica said she has 45 days to respond to the claim.
"I am not prepared right now even to speak to the process (of examining the claim)," Poturica said.
Klein said all sizable claims are reviewed by the City Council in closed session, so he expects the Harrison claim will be discussed by the council.
The appeal was filed a little more than a week after Harrison's suspension became public, but 2.5 weeks after Harrison's suspension was finalized on March 19. According to city regulations, Harrison had 10 days to appeal.
Poturica said the timing "may well be an issue."
She is waiting for a call from Pasternak to discuss a process of resolving the early April appeal.
The city's 2.5 page "Grievance Procedure" includes many levels of appeal, but does not address a situation where the person levying the discipline -- in this case, Benest -- is the only person senior to the appellant.
"To my knowledge the city has not been faced with this situation before," Poturica said.
She said she plans to discuss the process with Pasternak but does not necessarily intend to reach an agreement.
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