By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A lawsuit against Rohnert Park and its city manager that was set to go to trial later this year will soon be dismissed under a settlement deal, said the attorney for the plaintiff, a former top city official.
Sandy Lipitz, a 21-year employee, quit abruptly in 2012, citing what she described as pressure and harassment from City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, who had criticized her performance as director of administrative services, overseeing the finance department.
Lipitz’s lawsuit’s allegations against the city and Gonzalez included harassment, defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Nancy Shaffer dismissed many of those allegations in July.
But she let stand a central and potentially explosive charge: that Gonzalez had demanded Lipitz plug incorrect numbers into a city report that portrayed the city’s public safety department costs as higher than they were, and then blamed Lipitz for the mistake when it was noticed.
Gonzalez was at the time pushing an initiative to examine whether it would be cheaper to contract out for the law enforcement functions of the public safety department, which runs police and fire services. The city ultimately chose not to go down that path.
The case was set for trial in November.
But this week, Lipitz’s Santa Rosa attorney, Laura Dunst, said that Lipitz had accepted a deal under which she would drop the lawsuit and the city would not seek to recover its legal costs from her. The law, which protects the city from legal action in such cases, forced that decision, Dunst said.
“Ms. Lipitz is voluntarily dismissing it in exchange for a waiver of costs because the city can prove that under the government code, the city (and Gonzalez) is immune from liability,” Dunst said.
Dunst said she agreed with the interpretation of the law and that another law firm had pursued the suit initially. She did not know what that firm’s legal reasoning had been, she said.
Lipitz said she was disappointed but that the city held all the cards.
“It’s wrong that wrongful discharge is not applicable to public entities,” she said, adding, “In my opinion, basically I know he did me wrong, and he knows he did it too.”
Gonzalez, who has won the council’s praise for his leadership of the city, was on vacation this week and could not be reached.
Mayor Pam Stafford said she did not want to comment until the lawsuit was concluded, but said Gonzalez’s actions had “never been a concern.”
“Gabe has done a great job getting us on strong footing and having us go in the right direction,” Stafford said.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.