Two Residents Suing Lafayette Over Council Selection Process, Alleging They Were Passed Over for Being White
Lafayette residents and activists Andrew O’Connor and Cliff Smedley have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city and its newly appointed mayor, Alexandra Lynch, alleging they were blocked from consideration for an open council seat because they’re both older white men and as retaliation for a past legal spat.
The employment complaint, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, seeks $2.5 million for “actual, compensatory, intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.”
As two of three candidates dropped and refused public interviews from a 10-person applicant pool seeking to fill a council seat left vacant by Christine Berg’s surprise resignation last month, O’Connor and Smedley allege the board — one made up of six women and a younger, nonwhite man — railroaded their chances because both are Caucasian, male and more than 40 years old.
O’Connor also is alleging discrimination based on a disability he has from a traumatic brain injury.
The duo’s allegations will have to reconcile with the fact that the board chose to interview three other white men for the seat, and that there is little evidence to suggest the board actively sought a certain type of candidate for anything beyond their qualifications. O’Connor has dismissed that notion, declaring the “whole interview process a sham.
“This all comes down to that Cliff and I have a right to be treated fairly and not to be discriminated against,” O’Connor said. “There’s no reason in the world they couldn’t spare us 15 minutes to be interviewed.”
It’s also unclear if an employment complaint against a municipal body will hold water, attorneys say, suggesting these sort of lawsuits typically are filed against employers and companies. O’Connor argues that the act of the city taking applications for the seat falls under the category of a hiring process, validating the complaint.
Lynch on Wednesday called the complaint a “very flawed filing,” though she declined to comment further.
Following Berg’s resignation, the city put out a call for residents to apply for the open seat earlier this month. The board publicly convened on the 10 that applied and granted seven of them public interviews.
Leaders eventually settled on appointing Carolyn Cutler, the city’s one-time mayor, for the vacant seat for the next several months, citing her experience as to why she was chosen.
“The learning curve issue really lends itself to endorsing Carolyn,” Lynch said Tuesday. “She probably knows the city business better than we do.”
City spokespeople declined to comment on the pending litigation, though city attorney Dave Williamson said they had turned the complaint over to the city’s insurance carrier to give to their own legal counsel.
“They’ll never say it explicitly,” Smedley said Tuesday of the allegations, “but in various and recent campaigns it’s been made quite clear that they’re after their concept of diversity. And their concept of diversity — by looking at the makeup of council right now — does not include white males.”
Additionally, they both are alleging the board’s decision not to interview them for the seat is an act of retaliation for O’Connor’s ongoing legal feud with Comcast — in which he’s named the city — and the pair’s efforts to circulate a petition to recall Lynch’s recent appointment as mayor.
O’Connor’s retaliation allegation reaches back to a months-long dispute over who, exactly, has access to his property. For weeks he had refused to allow Comcast officials into his backyard to perform some maintenance work for a city-wide fiber project. Both Comcast and Lafayette claimed a right to the piece of the property through an easement, and O’Connor named both the company and Lafayette in the ensuing legal drama.
“That’s what this is about,” O’Connor said. “They sent a message that ‘we don’t like you because you sued us,’ and for that they wouldn’t even consider me (for council).”
All deliberations for the council finalists was conducted in public, officials say, and throughout, there was no mention of the Comcast saga or grudges surrounding past legal disputes.
The court on Tuesday confirmed the complaint had been officially lodged, but had returned the suit to the plaintiffs to correct some “discrepancies” in the filing.
O’Connor and Smedley plan to represent themselves.
Employment discrimination complaints are rooted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion and sex or national origin. The 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids employment discrimination against anyone at least 40 years old.
Instances of white men suing their employers for alleged discrimination have made headlines in recent months. Most notably, an engineer who was fired by Google for circulating an anti-diversity memo sued the company last year . He alleged that the tech company discriminates against white, conservative men.
The sentiment that Caucasian men are increasingly discriminated against has grown within white America in recent years, studies show, and it’s not contained only to older generations.
A 2018 PRRI/MTV poll of 15- to 24-year-olds found that 43 percent of young white men say discrimination against whites is as serious a problem as discrimination against other groups. The same poll found that roughly 29 percent of young white women agreed.
The discrimination complaint isn’t the only litigation Lafayette is fielding at the moment. Officials are in the process of drafting a response to a lawsuit filed by Cliff Willmeng last month, who alleges that then-mayor Berg infringed on his First Amendment rights by blocking and removing critical comments of his on her official Facebook page.
Willmeng named both Berg and the city in his filing.
Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, email@example.com or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn