Seaside’s former city attorney Elaine Cass this week filed a claim against the city, alleging she had been sexually harassed by Seaside’s Acting City Manager, Sam Head and then threatened with the loss of her job when she complained to council members about the harassment.
Cass, who served as Seaside’s attorney for 11 years, was placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 12 by a majority of Seaside city councilmembers. In subsequent weeks, Cass and the city negotiated a permanent separation agreement that included six months pay and benefits – an agreement that was concluded on Feb. 17.
In her claim against the city, Cass alleges she was “physically and verbally harassed by the then-assistant City Manager Sam Head” in 1992, and that when she later reported the nature of the harassment to city councilmembers, “threats were made that Ms. Cass would lose her job with the city.”
Cass also states in her claim that Seaside’s Mayor Lance McClair warned her that “Councilmembers [Helen] Rucker and Gert Foreman were a ‘pack of wolves’ who were trying to get [Cass] fired”
Rucker told Coast Weekly that she had not seen a copy of Cass’ claim against the city and could not comment on allegations that it contained, except to say, “I’m on a wolf, I’m a human being.” Foreman was away on jury duty at Coast Weekly press time and could not be reached for comment.
McClair himself this week denied having called Rucker and Foreman names, and characterized Cass’ allegations as “an attempt to divide the city council,” “a series of gross misstatements and contradictions,” and a violation of the attorney/client relationship Cass had with the city. McClair also says Cass told councilmembers she was a witness in allegations of misconduct against Head, not a complainant.
But Cass says she told not only each individual councilmember, but also former City Manager Charles McNeely about her complaints concerning Head. “I had to,” says Cass. “I had to explain why I was declaring a conflict of interest (on legal matters having to do with Head).” She added that “nothing in the claim violated the attorney/client privilege” with Seaside.
Cass has also filed a claim against Seaside with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC], which is investigating her claim and others filed by Seaside’s City Clerk Arlene Soto, Police Chief Charles Richardson and Redevelopment Director Ralph Freedman.
The City of Seaside now has 45 days to respond to Cass’ most recent claim, and Michael Stamp, Cass’ attorney said Cass may sue if it is denied.
“In the past year, certain members of the city council have knowingly embarked on a course of conduct designed to destroy the lives and reputations of those who disagree with them,” says Cass. She alleges in her claim that McClair, Rucker, Foreman and Head “engaged in a campaign” to drive hr out of city hall – a campaign that included false and defamatory statements, invasion of protected privacy rights and interference with her contract to provide legal services.
“I regret having to sue the city,” says Cass, who declined to discuss the specifics of her allegations against Head. “But it is the only way to make these people accountable for their actions.”
McClair, who is himself facing prosecution for felony violations of state open meeting laws, and recall attempt, said this week he isn’t’ concerned about the possibility of a suit by Cass.
“Like any agency, the city has deep pockets,” said McClair. “This is just the cost of doing business.”
So far, five other women have come forward to describe interactions they have had with Head during his 19 months on the job in Seaside – interactions they say range from inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to outright harassment and intimidation. The city has already investigated Head’s behavior on several occasions, using both city staff and outside consultants at a cost to the city in excess of $25,000, according to the city expenditure records.
Cass, in her claim says that “outside consultants and at least three independent attorneys” advised Seaside’s city council and mayor “not to give Mr. Head the authority and opportunity to retaliate against those who had knowledge of his conduct.”
The claim states that “despite such advice, the majority of the city council gave Mr. Head the position of Interim City Manager on Sept. 1, 1993.
Head is now a finalist for the permanent city manager post, and McClair has stated that investigations into his conduct are now complete and have resulted in directing Head to conduct a workshop for employees on workplace issues.
This week McClair reiterated that “the city already went through appropriate processes” relative to accusations against Head “and the matter was resolved.”
McClair added that everything has been settled as far as employee complaints,” and said the city “is not responsible for people who are not satisfied with the outcome. We’ve proceeded as law requires.”
But Stamp, who is representing four of the employees filing complaints against Seaside with the EEOC, says the federal agency could determine otherwise as they investigate allegations against the city. According to Stamp, the EEOC could decide employees’ complaints are not valid, or that they are valid and should be pursued through civil litigations.
Stamp says the agency could also decide to bring an administrative proceeding against the city of Seaside – a proceeding that could involve a federal hearing officer and result in the payment of fines and penalties out of city coffers.
McClair said this week that he feels Cass’ claims won’t be substantiated.
“She’s gonna lose this sucker,” said McClair. “Someone has to tell her, ‘Look, lady, get a life. It’s over with the city.’”