By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A former human resources director for the City of Cheyenne is suing the city, alleging she was a victim of discrimination because of a disability.
Denise Freeman is suing the city in federal court, seeking damages in an amount to be determined by a jury for lost wages, harm to her reputation, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life and other injuries.
According to the lawsuit filed Thursday, the allegations stem from former Mayor Marian Orr’s decision to fire Freeman after Freeman asked for extended unpaid medical leave.
The firing followed several disputes between the two women, the lawsuit said, that began shortly after Orr took office in January of 2017.
“During her only term as tenure, Mayor Orr was prone to fits of rage and would lash out angrily at Ms. Freeman and other city employees,” the lawsuit said. “At all times material to this complaint, Mayor Orr would scream diatribes, swear at and in the presence of city employees and stomp angrily out of meetings.”
Some of the disputes stemmed from the Human Resources Department’s failure to send Orr employment applications submitted by “friends and acquaintances, several of which had not cleared departmental review,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also said Freeman was criticized by Orr for “burying” an application that the Human Resources Department had determined was incomplete.
“During her employment with (the city), Ms. Freeman felt bullied and intimidated by Mayor Orr and her Chief of Staff Eric Fountain,” it said.
In April 2018, suffering from depression, anxiety and insomnia exacerbated by “work stress,” Freeman asked for six weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.
“Ms. Freeman had a disabling medical condition that, among other things, substantially affected her ability to focus and work,” the lawsuit said. “She requested leave because of her disability.”
An assistant human resources director was hired while Freeman was gone, the lawsuit said, and was paid $5,000 more per year than Freeman was making.
The new assistant director was then told he would become the department’s interim director while Freeman was on leave with a salary of $25,000 more per year than Freeman’s.
Freeman’s asked for another six weeks of unpaid leave in June 2018. She asked on July 16, 2018, that she be allowed to use her accrued vacation time for additional leave and to use another 160 hours from the city’s “sick leave bank” to extend her leave. She said her request was accompanied by a doctor’s statement that she was still suffering from depression and anxiety.
On July 18, Orr wrote to tell Freeman her request for additional leave was denied because a doctor had not signed the proper form.
In the same letter, Orr told Freeman she was fired, although she also said Freeman could apply for open positions within the city when she was ready to return to work.
The lawsuit alleged the city failed to make reasonable accommodations for Freeman’s disability and then fired her because of her disability in violation of federal laws.
“The unlawful employment practices complained of in the preceding paragraphs were done with malice or reckless indifference for Ms. Freeman’s federally protected rights,” it said.