By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A former Lander city employee is suing the city and its public works director, alleging he was discriminated against due to his military status and was improperly fired.
Michael Clancy is suing the city and public works director Lance Hopkin in U.S. District Court, claiming they violated his federal and state due process rights and discriminated against him due to his status as a member of the armed services.
“Defendants discriminated against Mr. Clancy by imposing adverse employment actions including but not limited to, forced resignation, because of his status as a service member in the (Army National Guard) in violation of (federal law),” the lawsuit said.
According to court documents, Clancy worked for the city of Lander for more than 15 years as a water treatment plant operator. Clancy is also a member of the Army National Guard who was deployed to Iraq between 2009 and 2010.
Upon return from his deployment, the city of Lander paid the retirement that he would have earned had he not been deployed, including contributions he would have made.
In September 2018, Clancy was again deployed, this time to Afghanistan. Upon his return in August 2020, Hopkin, Clancy’s new supervisor, denied Clancy his prorated salary, as well as his benefits, from the period of his deployment.
Clancy thought his boss’ decision was unfounded, so he contacted a Veterans Affairs representative to look into the situation. The representative contacted Hopkin and tried to explain that Clancy was entitled to a portion of his salary and benefits, as well as military benefits, while he was deployed.
Hopkin was not receptive to the information, questioned who the representative was and asked what authority he/she had to tell him what to do regarding his employees, the lawsuit said.
After much resistance, Clancy did ultimately receive his prorated salary.
However, Hopkin required Clancy to pay almost $5,000 in employee contributions to retirement he accrued while deployed, which was not the same arrangement made the first time he was deployed.
Additionally, when Clancy returned to work, Hopkin assigned him to work at the cemetery, even though he is experienced and licensed as a water treatment plant operator and there was a shortage of operators at the water treatment plant. At the cemetery, Clancy’s duties were mostly related to lawn care.
The reassignment resulted in a loss of on-call pay and overtime Clancy would have received if he was working as a water treatment plant operator.
Clancy was eventually transferred back to the plant in November of 2020.
Since his return from Afghanistan, Hopkin treated Clancy worse than other employees who were not in the Guard, even refusing to speak to Clancy for a time, the lawsuit said
Hopkin also denied Clancy two promotion opportunities by not advertising the positions to him and misrepresenting certain facts about other employment availability, the lawsuit alleged.
For example, in October 2018, the water superintendent position became available, and Hopkin emailed all employees in the department about the job other than Clancy, and the person who was hired did not have as much administrative experience or seniority as Clancy.
In February 2021, an HR position was advertised, and although Clancy expressed interest, Hopkin steered him toward applying for an assistant water superintendent position. Clancy did not apply for the HR position, and when he later asked Hopkin about the assistant superintendent job, he discovered it did not actually exist.
Hopkin also told Clancy in April 2021 that he had some concerns about Clancy’s deployments, but would not elaborate on this.
The week of May 3, 2021, the water treatment plant had issues making potable water, which Clancy and his colleagues had been working on. On May 7, Clancy’s scheduled day off, he drove to Spearfish, South Dakota, which he had informed his co-workers about.
About an hour away from Spearfish, Hopkin called Clancy and told him to come into work, but Clancy said he was six hours away from Lander, but would be back late that night and could work that weekend. Hopkin told Clancy he needed to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and placed Clancy on administrative leave.
Following “an extremely biased investigation,” Hopkin gave Clancy the choice to be fired or resign for negligence, insubordination and dishonesty.
“These reasons are baseless and not supported by the evidence,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Clancy was forced to resign under protest so that he could retain his retirement.”
While Clancy’s job description does say there might be on-call work requirements and 24-hour standby, Clancy was never told he was on a standby or on-call duty when he left for South Dakota. In the past, whenever Clancy was required to be on call, he was told in advance.
Prior to the incident with Hopkin, all of Clancy’s employee evaluations had been satisfactory and he was never put on notice for job performance.
Clancy claims he and his family have been damaged by the job loss and although he has gotten a job driving trucks in Fremont County, the pay and benefits are “substantially less” than at the city.
However, Clancy does not want his job back, due to the way he has been treated.
In the lawsuit, Clancy is asking to be paid back for lost wages and benefits, on call pay, emotional stress and attorney’s fees.