Tacoma settles two firing claims for $320,000

Staff writerOctober 2, 2013 

Tacoma City Council members on Tuesday quietly approved a pair of settlement agreements that will pay two former employees a total of $320,000. The votes were unanimous.

The big payout – $275,000 – goes to Richard V. “Rick” Melvin, former manager of the city’s Cheney Stadium renovation project. A second settlement – $45,000 – goes to Susan Perong, formerly a consultant with the city’s Finance Department.

Melvin and Perong no longer work for the city. Both were fired. Both filed claims for damages on similar grounds, contending the city terminated them after promoting them into positions that lacked civil-service protection.

Perong’s claim, filed in January, never reached the courtroom. Melvin’s claim, filed in November 2011, turned into a lawsuit that worked its way to federal court and back.

On Sept. 23, the city suffered a legal setback in the Melvin case that prompted settlement discussions. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan denied the city’s motion for summary judgment, which would have ended the case.

Instead, Hogan ruled that arguments would continue, setting up a potential trial and arguments on the underlying merits of Melvin’s claim. That decision spurred the settlements. While Perong’s claim hadn’t reached the lawsuit stage, the details covered similar circumstances. Plus, she and Melvin hired the same attorney, Joan Mell of Fircrest.

Both settlement agreements were signed Sept. 26 and sent to the City Council for final approval, according to city attorney Elizabeth Pauli.

Mell said her clients were pleased with the outcome.

“The city and my clients have reached an amicable resolution of their claims that relate to the city affording them their civil service rights,” the attorney said. “My clients are pleased that the city has decided to reconcile those concerns by way of an amicable settlement.”

Melvin’s firing came in the wake of the $26.5 million ballpark renovation. In 2010, he was promoted to oversee the project. His new status eliminated the civil-service protections enjoyed by public-union members and certain other employees. In his original complaint, Melvin contended city leaders never made that clear.

The stadium renovation generated cost overruns of $821,000. That annoyed City Council members, who did not know until then-City Manager Eric Anderson informed them.

Records show Melvin’s supervisors approved the additional costs, and the final project came in below its projected $30 million budget. In his original complaint, Melvin said he resisted adding other costs to the project sought by leaders in the city’s Public Works Department.

Perong had worked for the city since 1994.

She had been an associate planner, but in 2002, she was appointed to a position as a budget consultant within the city’s Finance Department. In summer 2012, the city targeted the position for a layoff. Perong invoked so-called “bumping rights” to return to her old position, which had civil-service protection. The city resisted that effort and terminated her in January.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486

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