City, former department boss settling lawsuit

Jan. 30, 2013 @ 05:58 PM

A discrimination lawsuit against the city by its former human relations director will end next month with an out-of-court settlement, federal court clerks and city officials say.

The prospective settlement between the city and Yvonne Peña is the product of a mediation conference Dec. 28, Senior Assistant City Attorney Kim Rehberg said.

Terms of the deal will remain undisclosed until Peña’s Greensboro-based lawyer, Norman Smith, actually files the dismissal paperwork, Rehberg said.

Federal court clerks have given him a Feb. 28 deadline for the filing.

Meanwhile, “the documents are still being prepared, and the parties have not yet completed all actions discussed and tentatively agreed upon at the mediated settlement conference,” Rehberg said.

She added the city will release the terms after the case is dismissed.

North Carolina law in most cases bars local governments from signing out-of-court settlements that include the sort of confidentiality clauses common in the private sector.

The only exception the state allows is for medical malpractice claims, which are not a factor in Peña’s lawsuit.

Peña led the city’s since-disbanded Human Relations Department for nine years, before being fired by City Manager Tom Bonfield in the spring of 2011.

A 2011 termination letter and a city-filed dismissal motion in the lawsuit said Peña’s dismissal came because of repeated squabbles between Peña and her subordinates.

But Peña and Smith argued that the firing was the product of discrimination based on Peña’s age and Hispanic ethnicity.

The mediation conference occurred 11 days after Rehberg filed the motion that asked U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Tilley Jr. to dismiss the case because Peña before her firing “was clearly not meeting the city’s legitimate expectations.”

Federal court officials had given the two sides until Jan. 11 to mediate the case. Smith relayed word to them of the pending settlement on Monday.