Ashland settles with former employee over alleged workplace harassment
The City of Ashland has settled a lawsuit with a former parks department employee over allegations of workplace harassment.
The city is paying out $700,000 to Laura Chancellor as part of the settlement agreement.
Chancellor worked for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department for 18 years before filing a lawsuit last year alleging harassment, sexism and bullying throughout much of her time in the department.
$70,000 of that payout is from the city for retroactive pay, which Chancellor’s lawyer, Thomas Dimitre, said is for lost wages because Chancellor had to quit her job in 2022 after facing harassment and filing the lawsuit.
The remaining $630,000 is being paid by the city’s insurance provider, for alleged emotional distress and attorney’s fees.
Dimitre said Chancellor is pleased with the settlement. He said the city did not provide enough support for Chancellor or other women working there.
“That’s where the big failure was,” he said. “She went to HR many times, others went to HR, to the city attorney and to the city manager and nothing changed.”
In a statement, both Dimitre and the city said the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing or liability.
Mayor Tonya Graham said they’ve taken steps over the last eighteen months to improve the work environment.
“We will continue to work on this until we are absolutely certain that we have met that goal of a healthy and productive workforce and workplace for our people,” Graham said. “It is the most important thing we can do as an organization.”
Graham attributed the efforts to leadership changes in the city over the last few years. City Manager Joe Lessard started in January, 2022. Graham was appointed mayor early this year.
Graham said they’ve been making HR and complaint procedures clearer for everyone, and are implementing more diversity training for staff.
The former director of Chancellor’s department, Michael Black, also left the City of Ashland in July for a job in Moab, Utah.
Former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Leslie Eldridge was selected as the interim director for the department until a permanent replacement is found.