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Ousted Rec Director Loses Case Against City

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Copyright 2017 The Buffalo News
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The Buffalo News (New York)

 

The City of Lockport violated no laws when it abolished Melissa I. Junke's job as the city's youth and recreation director, a state hearing officer has ruled.

Law Judge Martin Erazo Jr.'s decision is a complete win for the city. The Buffalo News obtained a copy of the ruling under the Freedom of Information Law.

Erazo wrote in his 11-page ruling, dated Feb. 10, that the city presented "legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its actions that were not a subterfuge for unlawful discrimination."

It's the second time Junke's allegations have been rejected. The Buffalo office of the State Division of Human Rights had ruled in May 2015 that Junke had no case, but changed its mind nine months later and ordered a formal hearing, which was held in July and September 2016.

Junke had claimed she lost her job in June 2014 because the city was retaliating against her after she complained that former Mayor Michael W. Tucker sexually harassed her, or because of an investigation that the city had opened over Junke's alleged misuse of a city credit card to help organize a golf tournament sponsored by a restaurant owned by her brother.

Junke, 35, also contended she was discriminated against because she was off work on a medical leave at the time of her ouster. She suffered a back injury when she fell on ice outside her city office Jan. 6, 2014.

Junke remains on worker's compensation to this day, Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Thursday.

Erazo ruled that Junke failed to prove her discrimination and retaliation charges, while the city argued successfully that the youth director job was abolished because of the city's financial crisis, which resulted in special state legislation that allowed Lockport to borrow money to pay off its accumulated deficit of more than $4 million. In all, the city abolished or left vacant 27 jobs between November 2013 and October 2014.

Erazo did not rule on the merits of the more lurid allegations Junke raised against Tucker, including a claim that Tucker asked her in June 2013 to text him a nude photo of herself and that she helped Tucker cover up an affair Tucker was allegedly having with another city employee. Junke claimed that as far back as 2009, she drove the other woman to a remote location in Orleans County, where Tucker would pick up the woman.

Tucker has called those accusation's "garbage," and Erazo did not address them because they allegedly happened outside of the one-year window that state law sets for such complaints to be filed. Junke said none happened after January 2014, and she didn't file her complaint with the state until January 2015. Tucker did not testify at the hearing.

"It's all time-barred, and it was apparent from the outset that it was time-barred," said attorney Ryan G. Smith, who represented the city in the hearings. "The city's obviously pleased with the well-reasoned order from Judge Erazo."

George V.C. Muscato, Junke's attorney at the time, in February 2014 gave the city's attorney a copy of Junke's threat to go public with the harassment allegations against Tucker. He resigned the next day. Erazo said that notice was protected under anti-discrimination law, but Junke couldn't prove that her ouster was retaliation for that act.

McCaffrey, who succeeded Tucker, testified that when she was on the Common Council in November 2013, she sent her colleagues an email suggesting the abolition of Junke's job, among other proposals, for financial reasons.

Junke and her attorney for the hearing, Lindy Korn, did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

They have until March 15 to appeal Erazo's recommended ruling to the Division of Human Rights.

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March 4, 2017
 
 
 

 

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