In a closed-door meeting in May, DeBary City Council members expressed frustration about a $250,000 settlement to resolve a federal lawsuit filed by a former employee who alleged gender discrimination.
That detail and others about the Kassandra Blissett case were revealed for the first time Thursday.
The city released a transcript of the private City Council meeting held on May 16 in response to a DeBary Life public-records request.
Such private meetings, called executive sessions, are allowed for pending litigation. But transcripts must be made public after the legal matters are resolved.
The transcript revealed attorneys for the former assistant manager wanted $780,000 to settle when city representatives offered $100,000.
An attorney for the city disclosed that he didn’t think the “problematic” case would ever reach a settlement and he raised concerns about the possibility of DeBary facing litigation in state court in addition to the federal lawsuit.
“This money is all being paid for by the insurance company,” Orlando attorney Michael Bowling told City Council members, referring to the $250,000 settlement.
‘We subrogated our rights’
After they discussed details and asked questions, City Council members left the private meeting and reconvened publicly to approve the settlement. But they’ve said little about it publicly.
They had more to say in private.
City Council member Stephen Bacon said the council had no choice but to approve the settlement.
“We subrogated our rights,” he said, according to the transcript. “We have no rights in the matter. The insurer has made a decision. They have every right to make the decision. And if we said no, then we have no insurance. We would be giving up all insurance benefits and have to pay for everything on our own. So there’s really no — you know, there’s no choice …”
At that point, Bowling said, “If you say no, you’re taking — you’re exposing yourself to potential risk.”
“Yeah,” Bacon added. “Absolutely.”
Blissett OK’d $250K in mediation
Bowling of Bell & Roper told council members Blissett agreed to the $250,000 settlement during a recent mediation.
She filed suit against DeBary and then City Manager Dan Parrott in June 2016 – less than a year after Parrott eliminated her position for budget cuts.
Blissett claimed her March 2015 termination was in retaliation for objecting to alleged “discriminatory business practices based upon sex and equal pay in violation of the Federal Employment Discrimination Act.”
Parrott and the city have denied the allegations in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint.
No retaliation, attorney says
Parrott, Bowling said during the May 16 meeting, didn’t even know about the discrimination allegations until after he eliminated her position. Parrott retired in 2016.
“I spoke to you guys at length about the case,” Bowling said. “It was problematic in a couple of primary respects. One, it was very complicated. There was a lot of counts. Two, there was a retaliation issue, though I don’t believe Dan Parrott retaliated against Kassandra Blissett.
“There was the filing of her EEOC complaint and her termination, essentially, passing each other in the night. Mr. Parrott’s testimony is that he made the decision and then learned of the EEOC charge,” Bowling added. “However, there is testimony from a former employee Stacy [Tebo] that the evening before Dan Parrott had said that he was going to fire somebody else.”
Tebo, a former DeBary city clerk, is also suing the city, alleging gender discrimination after her termination. Her federal suit is pending.
Attorney raised concerns about ‘jury question’
“So it seemed like it was going to be a jury question, so it would have been a case that would have been tried to the jury at least on the retaliation claim,” Bowling said.
He also noted that there was a potential for a lawsuit in state court because the city inadvertently released certain documents related to the case that should not have been made public. Details on that were not immediately available.
“The case had a lot of permutations,” Bowling added. “And, frankly, I thought it was going to end up being tried twice: Once in state court on the state claims, once in federal court on the retaliation claim.”
Depositions expanded firm’s costs, attorney says.
Daytona firm got $215K
Bowling called the settlement breakdown “interesting.”
The agreement says $215,000 goes to Doran Sims Wolfe & Ciocchetti, the Daytona Beach law firm that represented Blissett. The rest — $35,000 — goes to Blissett.
“Unbelievable,” remarked interim City Manager Ron McLemore, according to the transcript.
At one point, City Council member Erika Benfield asked if the insurance company made its recommendation based on reading “actual depositions.”
“Yes. This case was thoroughly discovered,” Bowling added. “I mean, part of the reason the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees that are claimed are so high is because there was a lot of depositions. Everyone really — not everyone, but we must have taken over a dozen depositions. There was a great deal of written discovery, lots of records reviewed.· And there was also some crossover. There’s related cases out there where there was some crossover in discovery. So this case was thoroughly explored.”
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