A lawsuit against Rohnert Park and its city manager that was set to go to trial later this year will soon be dismissed, apparently concluding a messy conflict between the city and a former top official.
Sandy Lipitz, a 21-year employee, quit abruptly in 2012, citing what she described as pressure and harassment from City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, who had criticized her performance as director of administrative services, overseeing the finance department.
The former administrative services director alleged in her lawsuit that the city and Gonzalez had engaged in, among other things, harassment, defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Laura Dunst, Lipitz's attorney, said the dismissal came because the city was able to prove it was immune from such suits. The city's attorney said the suit was dismissed because it had no merit.
"There was no evidence that Mr. Gonzalez engaged in any wrongdoing with Ms. Lipitz and that is why the case was dismissed," said Adrienne Moran, who represented the city. She said that Lipitz filed the suit after Gonzalez refused to give her a "golden handshake" severance package.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Nancy Shaffer in July dismissed the allegations related to harassment, the infliction of emotional distress and defamation of character.
But she let stand a central and potentially explosive charge: that Gonzalez had demanded Lipitz plug incorrect numbers into a city report that portrayed the city's public safety department costs as higher than they were, and then blamed Lipitz for the mistake when it was noticed.
Gonzalez was at the time pushing an initiative to examine whether it would be cheaper to contract out for the law enforcement functions of the public safety department, which runs police and fire services. The city ultimately chose not to go down that path.
The case was set for trial in November.
But this week, Dunst, said Lipitz had agreed to a deal under which she would drop the suit and the city would not seek to recover its legal costs from her. The law forced that decision, Dunst said.
"Ms. Lipitz is voluntarily dismissing it in exchange for a waiver of costs because the city can prove that under the government code, the city (and Gonzalez) is immune from liability," Dunst said.
Dunst said she agreed with the interpretation of the law and that another firm had pursued the suit initially. She did not know what that firm's legal reasoning had been, she said.
Lipitz said she was disappointed but that the city held all the cards.
"It's wrong that wrongful discharge is not applicable to public entities," she said, adding, "In my opinion, basically I know he did me wrong, and he knows he did it too."
Gonzalez, who has won the council's praise for his leadership of the city, was on vacation this week and could not be reached.
Mayor Pam Stafford said she did not want to comment until the lawsuit was concluded, but said Gonzalez's actions had "never been a concern."
"Gabe has done a great job getting us on strong footing and having us go in the right direction," Stafford said.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.