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Pequot Lakes: City, former employee settle lawsuit for $35,000

The city of Pequot Lakes and a former employee recently settled a lawsuit for $35,000.

Jeanyne Alderson, a nearly 10-year city employee in the clerk's office and then as police department office manager, filed the lawsuit in January 2017 in Crow Wing County District Court after the city fired her in February 2016.

The League of Minnesota Cities handled the lawsuit for the city, including the mediated settlement agreement. The league assigned Pamela VanderWiel, attorney with Everett & VanderWiel, to represent the city in the lawsuit. She disclosed the settlement amount.

Reasons city documents cited for Alderson's dismissal in 2016 included being reprimanded for sending and receiving personal and private business emails during city paid hours and while using a city email address, and for secretly recording conversations in the workplace, specifically with Police Chief Eric Klang and council member Scott Pederson, liaison to the police department.

Alderson filed the lawsuit, claiming the city fired her as the police department office manager after she reported what she believed was illegal conduct by Klang, according to an emailed statement from her attorney, Michael Gerould, of Engelmeier & Umanah. Alderson reported Klang in a formal complaint to the city in January 2015, and claimed she then suffered retaliation and discipline that ended in her termination in February 2016, her attorney said.

The city denied Alderson's claims in the lawsuit. Both parties reached a mediated settlement agreement in October, and the lawsuit was dismissed.

Alderson said through the email from her attorney that she is happy the case is over but sad that her employment ended the way it did; and she encourages all people who face injustice to stand up for their rights.

Alderson files lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, Alderson said Klang approached her a number of times in early January 2015 requesting information about two former police department employees - officer Josh Gartner and reserve unit Sgt. Robert Walstead. Alderson said in the court documents that she believed this personal inquiry was unlawful and against department policy, and she didn't want to be involved.

Court documents say Alderson filed a formal complaint with the city in January 2015 "notifying the city of Chief Klang's unlawful conduct - using his position and authority to stalk and harass two individuals - and his continuous harassment of Ms. Alderson because of her refusal to assist or participate."

To Alderson's knowledge, the city did not investigate or do anything to prevent harassment by Klang from continuing, documents said. The lawsuit said "relentless retaliation from Chief Klang and others in the department soon followed - and continued up to and including Ms. Alderson's termination."

Alderson accused the city of violating the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, saying she was disciplined, isolated, had her attempts to complain about harassment and retaliation interfered with, and ultimately was fired.

The lawsuit also cited "common law retaliatory discharge-Phipps claim," alleging wrongful discharge when the discharge was carried out in violation of public policy.

The lawsuit sought damages in excess of $50,000 for wage loss; damages in excess of $50,000 for future wage loss and front pay; damages in excess of $50,000 for mental anguish and/or emotional distress; and equitable relief, including reinstatement and attorney fees and costs.

City's response

Court documents say the city admitted Klang asked Alderson if she had recently seen Walstead, and that Alderson completed a citizen complaint form alleging harassment by Klang. Documents say the city believed Alderson was satisfied with the way the city resolved the complaint.

The city denies that Klang's conduct was illegal or that the city violated any public policy when it terminated Alderson.