City Lost Another Suit Around Employment Issues

Former senior center director settles with city


by John Darling for the Tidings

Former Ashland Senior Center manager Christine Dodson, who was fired during a controversial reorganization by the Parks & Recreation Department in August 2017 after 10 years on the job, has settled her lawsuit against the city for $538,000.

Dodson sued in May 2018 for $1.1 million, plus legal fees. It will be paid entirely by Citycounty Insurance Services, with $288,368 for “noneconomic damages,” (emotional or reputation), $177,540 for legal costs and $72,092 in lost wages.

In her suit, Dodson claimed that she was excluded from meetings and communication with parks managers, faced “false and defamatory statements” that damaged her reputation, and that she suffered retaliation for filing a back-wage claim — then was not given due process in her termination.

The suit was filed against the city, Parks & Recreation Director Michael Black, and Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Gardiner.

In August 2017, Senior Center staff, volunteers and supporters said they were blindsided by the reorganization plan, which included replacing Dodson with a parks and recreation employee, moving major functions to the “multi-generational” Grove building on East Main, and doing “cost recovery” (making programs produce revenue) of $75,000 in the biennium.

At a public hearing that August, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission approved the plan, leading to much opposition, protests and appointment of an ad hoc advisory committee. It made 34 new recommendations on the plan, including $100,000 for a senior services position, which is operating now. Seniors created a recall election for three of the APRC commissioners in March 2018, but it failed.

City Attorney David Lohman, in an email after the settlement, said APRC and the city “stand behind the decisions APRC made to revitalize the senior program for the benefit of all Ashland residents. That revitalization required taking the program in a new direction, a decision that has turned out to be quite successful. The city and APRC have admitted no liability in the course of settling the lawsuit and remain fully committed to the propriety and legality of their and their employees’ actions.”

However, the city, in a post-settlement letter to Dodson from Black and City Administrator Kelly Madding, said her separation “could have been handled better.”

The letter said they appreciate “the good work you did. Your dedication to and compassion for the more vulnerable of our senior population has been evident throughout the years that you served in that role. You were a passionate advocate for many of Ashland’s senior citizens, and you had a significant and positive impact on the lives of many.”

Chris Lundberg, Dodson’s lawyer in Portland, issued a statement saying she wanted a jury trial but is pleased with the settlement, because it “restored her good name,” as did the letter of praise and thanks for her passion and dedication.

Citycounty Insurance Services is an insurer set up by the League of Oregon Cities and Association of Oregon Counties to cover risk management for 98 percent of Oregon cities.

The Ashland Senior Center provides a “variety of free or low-cost recreational, health promotion, and educational opportunities,” and a low-cost lunch at 11 a.m. weekdays, according to its website, ashlandseniorcenter.org.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org. Ashland Tidings

//inserted by Sharon