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Pinellas Park settles sexual bias lawsuit

The former assistant city manager said she was fired for vague reasons that were a "pretext for sex discrimination.''

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- City administrators have agreed to pay almost $43,000 to former assistant city manager Peggy McGarrity, who claimed she was fired two years ago because of sexual discrimination.

Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd also agreed to write McGarrity a favorable letter of reference and to put no disparaging documents in her file.

Mudd agreed that neither he nor other officials would speak badly of her. McGarrity agreed she would not speak ill of Mudd, Pinellas Park, council members or other employees.

The settlement agreement, struck Tuesday during a mediation session, closed a federal lawsuit McGarrity filed last summer against the city and Mudd personally.

McGarrity could not be reached for comment.

Council member Rick Butler said he did not have enough information about the settlement to comment, but he was pleased the city would not have to go through a drawn-out lawsuit.

Pinellas Park will pay $25,000 of the $42,500 settlement from tax monies. The other $17,500 will come from the Florida League of Cities, which insures Pinellas Park. The settlement also clears the claims against Mudd.

The suit alleged McGarrity had been fired in 1998 for "inarticulate and vague reasons, which were a mere pretext for sex discrimination." It also charged that she was treated more harshly than male employees who were accused of misconduct but not fired.

Although the lawsuit may have calmed some of McGarrity's anger, it did nothing to clear up the details of why she was fired. Mudd has said only that McGarrity ridiculed him and some council members. He has never provided details, and the city has consistently fought efforts to force officials to disclose details.

McGarrity has always denied the charges and claimed she was bewildered by Mudd's charges.

Those details of what she might have said never came out during the lawsuit, said McGarrity's attorney, Marcia Cohen.

"That's the major thing that we've all been trying to find out," Cohen said Wednesday. "Nobody that Peggy's ever talked to has ever said to her that they heard her say anything derogatory."

In fact, Cohen said, "bunches of people" who worked for the city denied they ever heard her say anything bad about anyone.

Although the lawsuit failed to provide that information, the settlement likely will.

The city has agreed to release all file and court documents as required under the state's Public Records Law. City officials had withheld them until now, claiming that they were part of an ongoing lawsuit and therefore exempt from disclosure. Now that the suit has been settled, the exemption no longer applies.

McGarrity had worked for Pinellas Park for almost 18 years when Mudd suddenly suspended her without pay for a week and moved to fire her in June 1998. Mudd said then that McGarrity had produced substandard work and had problems with conduct and attitude. He described her then as careless and uncooperative.

He also said McGarrity had ridiculed him and council members.

Shortly after, 32 employees and friends, including council member Patricia Bailey, former Mayor Cecil Bradbury and then state Rep. Mary Brennan, D-Pinellas Park, testified on her behalf during a pre-termination hearing. Although they spoke highly of her and her work ethic, Mudd fired her.

After she was fired, McGarrity applied for unemployment. At first, the city fought her application, but backed off when officials discovered they would have to give details explaining why she had been fired to prevent her from getting the compensation.

Shortly after, the city invited her back to celebrate her "retirement" and praised her contributions before giving her a plaque and a $100 gift certificate.

McGarrity took a temporary job with the city of Oldsmar. She later moved to Tamarac, a city of about 51,500 people northwest of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County. Later she became the finance manager for Osceola County, a position she continues to hold.

The ironic thing, attorney Cohen said, is that the firing likely helped McGarrity get a better job and life than she had while working in Pinellas Park.

"It's a big job and she absolutely loves it," Cohen said. "She would probably have stayed in Pinellas Park the rest of her working life. . . . She really needed to branch out with her life."

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