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State investigating harrassment charge against city

By Staff | Sep 19, 2014

The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights is investigating a charge of discrimination filed by former public works employee Joel Engeland against the City of Rugby, according to a filing requested by the Tribune.

The charge was filed on April 1. The Department of Labor and Human Rights could not comment further on the case. Engeland said that he was scheduled to join city representatives for a meeting in Bismarck in late march. That meeting was rescheduled for May, but is yet to take place, according to Engeland.

In the form sent to the state, Engeland claims he was “subjected to hostile working environment harassment based on my age, 53, and due to the harassment, I felt compelled to quit my job on Feb. 13, 2014.” He began employment with the city in June 2013.

Engeland added that he was subjected to daily harassment from coworkers Brad Radomski and Troy Munyer, and that he reported it to superiors, “but they did not take effective action to stop the harassment.” Engeland claims he reported issues to public works supervisor Rick Larson, city auditor Dawn Hauck and council members, Arland Geiszler and Terry Wentz. The filing states that former Mayor Dave Cichos was also informed of the alleged harassment. Six examples of harassment are included in the file, including language and material not fit for publication.

“I just couldn’t handle seeing them over there,” Engeland told the Tribune. “The city didn’t do anything but suspend them. I just want some of the money back from medical bills and loss of retirement from the city.” He said he doesn’t feel the issues were adequately addressed.

Engeland confirmed that he sought medical attention because of the alleged harassment.

Council Member questions response

The City of Rugby personnel committee met Wednesday and approved minutes from the previous meeting, held in January. Committee member and Ward 3 Council Member Jim Hoffert asked if some of the issues pertaining to the Engeland case – and detailed in the January minutes – were addressed. Geiszler declined to comment on specifics of the case citing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The minutes included a summary of a complaint made by Engeland regarding treatment he was receiving from coworker Radomski. According to the minutes, Engeland and Radomski had an argument about whether Engeland deserved a raise. Radomski called deputy auditor Phyllis Johnson, who informed him that Engeland would receive a 5 percent raise along with all city employees. According to Engeland’s complaint, detailed in the minutes, swear words were exchanged and a flashlight was thrown in his direction by Radomski.

Engeland stated other specific incidents where he was singled out and picked on in a recording given to Hauck.

The personnel committee met with Radomski and Larson and stated that it is not Radomski’s responsibility to worry about Engeland’s job, according to the minutes. Cichos, the chair of the committee at the time, stated that teasing and harassment needed to stop or there would be grounds for unpaid time off for both Radomski and Larson. Also in the minutes, Radomski stated he would stop harassing Engeland. Larson was instructed to make sure the situation is under control.

Through a records request from the Tribune, documentation shows that Engeland submitted a letter of resignation on Feb. 13, effective Feb. 19. Engeland reported that demeaning behavior toward him had continued. Hauck’s report stated that Dave Engeland, Joel Engeland’s brother, told her of more instances: “Dave told me that bottle rocket fireworks were shot under the bathroom door while Joel was inside. In one instance, Radomski threw a bottle at Joel and it hit the wall and put a hole in the wall. In another instance a bottle of some sort of chemical was placed in the back of a pickup when Joel was backing it out of the shop. When it hit the air it exploded. Things are being done deliberately to jar Joel’s nerves.”

The complaint filed with the state says dry ice was in a pop bottle. The alleged fireworks incident is included in the complaint.

City clerk Candy Munyer told Hauck that similar fireworks incidents have happened throughout the years toward all public works employees.

England reported issues to Ward 2 Council Member Dave Bednarz on Feb. 10. Bednarz informed Hauck, who called Cichos and Geiszler. Cichos and Geiszler said they would discuss the issues with Ward 4 Council Member Wentz, the public works committee chair. Dave Engeland said he also spoke with Wentz.

The following week, Geiszler (then council president and personnel committee member) and Wentz met with each member of the department. Radomski received a one-week suspension without pay, Larson received a two-day suspension without pay and Munyer received a three-day suspension without pay.

Larson declined to comment citing pending litigation. A message requesting comment from Radomski was not returned.

Munyer, who is accused of misoperating city equipment in Engeland’s complaint, denied the claim.

“I’ve never misused city equipment,” Munyer said.

The personnel committee’s next public meeting following January’s took place Wednesday.

“We didn’t have any reason to meet because we didn’t have personnel matters to address,” said Cichos, who was out of the area from January to April.

Geiszler said he expects the personnel committee to meet every month in the future. The city’s other committees – buildings, property and construction; finance; ordinance and recreation; public safety; public works – meet each month. The personnel committee met twice in 2013, four times in 2012, five times in 2011 and twice in 2010, according to minutes posted on the city’s website.

Review process discussed

The committee, chaired by Mayor Geiszler, includes Hauck (whose resignation was effective Friday), Hoffert and Police Chief John Rose.

The police department has a review process in place, but there are no processes in place for the public works department nor the administration and finance department at city hall.

The committee will ask Johnson to collect samples of evaluation forms and job descriptions for the committee to review. Geiszler stated he would like the process to include department supervisors sharing reviews with the committee chairs the supervisors answer to. Suggestions will be reviewed at an October meeting with the goal of having a review process finalized by December.

Ward 4 Council Member Craig Zachmeier was present at the meeting. He plans to share a review form used for Bureau of Criminal Investigation employees. Zachmeier said he reviewed previous forms used by city departments and found a majority to have the same assessments given to all employees.

“Previous evaluations were all at 10 with no comments,” Zachmeier said.

Hauck stated that a committee chair should dock a department supervisor if all 10s are given on evaluations without comments justifying the scores.

Geiszler said he wants employees to be fully aware of job responsibilities and how the review process will work.

Rose emphasized the importance of receiving employee acknowledgment of the policy, so the city has the power to properly address personnel issues. The committee plans to further discuss what employees may be required to sign.

Hauck stated that she repeatedly asked the personnel committee to review job descriptions for city employees.

Hoffert asked the mayor why job descriptions and the employee review process had not gained more traction in recent years. Geiszler said he discussed the topic with former city attorney Mark Butz a few years ago, and changes weren’t deemed necessary at the time.

Other meeting news

Hoffert stated that members of the community brought to his attention the use of poor language by public works employees in public settings. Geiszler said if that behavior happens it should be documented.

“I believe the pattern of this type of language is continuing, from the feedback I’ve got,” Hoffert said. “I don’t think the public has to sign a complaint. We’re big boys and we can police them. I feel like we’ve addressed something that previous administrations didn’t, for whatever reason.”

Police Chief Rose requested assistance in financing out-of-town officer training sessions to insure officers can afford the trips. Officers are reimbursed, but may have to go to training ahead of their next paychecks.

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