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AP’s defense continues in 5 lawsuits

Highlands Today
Published:   |   Updated: April 8, 2013 at 09:01 AM
AVON PARK -

Four lawsuits against the City of Avon Park remain active in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court classified as employment discrimination, contract and indebtedness, libel/slander and “general court other.”

Also, in federal district court, the city continues to face a lawsuit that claims an employee was illegally searched.

The most recent court activity involved the employment discrimination case filed Nov. 3, 2011, by former city worker Betty Estredge against the City of Avon Park and City Manager Julian Deleon.

The lawsuit alleges “age discrimination” and “intentional infliction of mental distress,” citing that Deleon added “field work” to her job as a sign technician and secretary, which meant she had to perform “light cleaning and facilities maintenance.”

As part of her new duties, Estredge and another city worker older than 40 had to clean out and paint the wastewater treatment plant, “which had not been cleaned or painted for nearly a quarter of a century,” the lawsuit stated. The building “was infested with rats. ... both live and dead” and was filthy, with animal droppings, trash, used medical needles “and other hazardous waste.”

An amended complaint filed in May 2012 by Estredge’s attorney, Robert Grizzard II, states that “Estredge has not been able to work since Deleon mistreated her so badly that she broke down, both physically and mentally.”

Count 1 of the amended complaint states “this is an action for intentional infliction of mental distress (outrage). The actions of Deleon were intentional and were intended to cause Estredge to quit the job or to become so ill she could not perform the job.”

City labor attorney Brian Koji filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint in June 2012 citing it was filed well beyond the court’s March 20, 2012 deadline.

The motion to dismiss also stated the amended complaint included no new information to support an “outrageous” claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Circuit Judge J. David Langford dismissed Count 1 on March 25, stating “the amended complaint does not contain sufficient allegations to plead ‘outrageous’ conduct on the part of the defendants.”

But Langford denied the motion to dismiss Counts 2, 3 and 4 of the amended complaint, which alleged infliction of emotional distress, negligent retention or supervision and age discrimination, respectively.

Count 4 states, “the words of Council Person [Brenda] Gray and of Deleon, have discriminated against her, in substantial part because of her age, in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act.”

Grizzard said Thursday, “We have had no offers that were acceptable so we are continuing with further discovery.”

Discovery involves gathering information and documentation and conducting depostions to obtain sworn statements from the parties involved in a lawsuit.

“I certainly hope it is going to go to a jury trial, but there is a road between here and there,” Grizzard said, of the continuing legal proceedings.

Grizzard is also representing three other former city employees who have active lawsuits against the city: Sally Perry, Mike Rowan and Renee Green.

Perry’s case, filed in August 2012 in federal district court, alleges that an unlawful search of her handbag was conducted by city employees during an inspection of a city vehicle.

“We are in discovery,” Grizzard said of the case, which is in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, Fort Pierce Division.

Defendants in the case are the City of Avon Park and four city employees: Administrative Services Coordinator Brenda Sliva, Public Works Operations Manager Jimmy Runner, Public Safety Director Jason Lister and City Manager Julian Deleon.

Perry was a public works department employee.

In another case, Grizzard said, “We are continuing with discovery in Mrs. Green’s case. They are taking depositions and we are taking depositions and we are going forward.”

Green’s lawsuit, which was filed in February 2012, claims there was no “just cause” for Deleon to terminate her after she served as finance director for more than 10 years.

In former police chief Rowan’s case, Rowan’s due process hearing with the city was called off pending the resolution of the city’s appeal of a judge’s protective order on behalf of the State of Florida, Grizzard said.

The state of Florida filed the court proceeding against the City of Avon Park in April 2012 in an effort to quash a subpoena issued by a hearing officer, on behalf of the city, to state attorney's investigator Michael Ivancevich.

Ivancevich conducted the probe of Rowan's investigations of Avon Park city officials and also looked into Rowan's conduct as police chief.

Langford granted the protective order in June 2012, which will either exclude or limit Ivancevich's testimony.

The case docket shows a number of actions by Koji to appeal Langford’s decision.

Rowan filed suit against the city on June 16, 2011, after City Manager Julian Deleon suspended him with pay on April 19, then stripped him of his pay in June after it came to light that Rowan had investigated Mayor Sharon Schuler, Deputy Mayor Brenda Gray, city project manager Maria Sutherland and her husband, Councilman Parke Sutherland, for allegedly illegal activities.

On Oct. 19, Deleon fired Rowan, citing a Sept. 6 letter in which Deleon told Rowan that his responses to questions about inappropriate recordings and active cases involving city officials were untruthful and insubordinate. Deleon also cited the state attorney's office report regarding Rowan's investigation of city officials and employees.

According to Grizzard’s third amended complaint, which was filed Jan. 3, Rowan's suspension and termination were motivated by his referral of several allegations against city council members to the office of the State's Attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit.


mvalero@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5826

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