Fired City Attorney Promises Legal Action - KXNet.com - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Fired City Attorney Promises Legal Action

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The former city attorney in Minot says she was improperly dismissed from the job.

Colleen Auer hour says her firing on Friday afternoon came after she had filed an employment complaint against her supervisor, interim City Manager Cindy Hemphill.

Jim Olson sat down with Auer today to hear why she says she was wrongfully terminated.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "I was not allowed to do my job."

That's what Colleen Auer says started the ball rolling toward Friday's end - her dismissal from the job of city attorney for Minot - a job she had held for barely one month.

And it was a firing that was complete with two police officers to make sure she'd leave without incident.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "The police telling me I had limited time and watching me and surveilling me as I tried to pull together my stuff on an instant's notice."

Auer says her firing is in retaliation for an employment complaint she filed just after Easter.

Here's the timeline she lays out, beginning with her first day on the job, March 31st. She says on Thursday, April 17th, her supervisor, interim City Manager Cindy Hemphill and the city's human resources director came into her office, shut the door and made her believe her job was in jeopardy.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "In my opinion, when someone comes in and closes the door, with the human resources person in tow, and says "I'm trying to make this work out..." that's a good indication to me that you're being sent a very clear message that you're not playing ball...

Over Easter weekend, Auer crafted a complaint - an employment complaint she sent to the city council president, accusing Hemphill of harassment and creating a hostile work environment - and of not letting her do her job of making sure the city operated within the bounds of the law.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "It needed to be, and I requested that it be handled by an independent, third party expert. Somebody who knew employment law, who knew the requirements of the workplace, who was independent who had no potential interest in any of the things."

But that didn't happen. Instead, the mayor appointed three city council members to investigate the claim. Auer says that investigation involved interviews with Hemphill, the HR director, and herself. And on Thursday of this week, the mayor reported that her claim had been denied. But she wanted to know, could she appeal?

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "I said, do I have a right for the entire council to hear this. I request that. I would like that. Please tell me."

She got no response. Except for Friday's 4:45pm firing.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "Next thing I know there are two officers in my office...and the rest is history."

As for the actual dismissal - Auer says the two officers were accompanied by the HR director and interim City Manager Hemphill.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "So of course the first thing I did was ask, what's the basis, why are you firing me? And she paused a bit and then she said insubordination, basically not taking direction from the interim city manager, her. And I said who made the decision, she said the city council."

But there is a problem - if in fact Hemphill said the city council decided to fire Auer, and the former city attorney says the chief of police witnessed the statement, there would had to have been an illegal, unpublicized council meeting.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "If in fact the entire council had a role to play here, they did it outside the context of a public meeting, in which case there are larger issues that I don't think I need to spell out."

At any rate, Auer says she wondered if there was any documentation of her insubordination - any paperwork to support her firing.

Auer says Hemphill returned with this one-line letter.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "Dear Mrs. Auer, Please accept this as notice of termination from the City of Minot effective immediately."

Auer says her next step is to file a claim with the North Dakota Department of Labor and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But those actions are precursors to her filing a lawsuit against the city.

(Colleen Auer, Fired Minot City Attorney) "What has occurred here is a violation of state and federal law in my opinion, and I am going to pursue it and I will fight what I believe is retaliatory and wrongful termination."

I asked for comment from the city on this situation, but was told with legal action a possibility, there would be no comment right now. Jim Olson, KX News.

Auer said she plans to be in Bismarck Monday to file her wrongful termination claims.

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