A Grand Forks County woman is suing the city of East Grand Forks for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by rescinding a job offer it made in 2016.
Jodie Hasbrouck-Wagner had been offered a position as a jailer and administrative assistant for the East Grand Forks Police Department, on the condition she successfully complete a background check.
Two weeks later, Police Chief Michael Hedlund sent Wagner a letter rescinding his offer due to a "red flag" in her background report, according to Wagner's complaint. Wagner and her attorneys allege that red flag was Wagner's disability. According to her complaint, Wagner has diagnosed depression.
The complaint also mentions an incident that occurred nearly 13 years ago when current City Attorney Ron Galstad fired Wagner from his private law office.
Wagner's complaint said that, in 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission completed an investigation on her situation and found "reasonable cause" to believe the city discriminated against Wagner for her disability. East Grand Forks denied this accusation in an official answer to Wagner's complaint the city filed in November.
"I think the way I would phrase it is that the EEOC's decision is not controlling," said Jana O'Leary Sullivan, a League of Minnesota Cities attorney representing East Grand Forks. "The EEOC doesn't take sworn testimony or things like that, so sometimes it's of limited value."
The Herald was unable to immediately obtain documents related to the EEOC investigation. Attorneys for Wagner declined to comment despite multiple requests from the Herald.
Wagner had been working in a Grand Forks law office for Pearson, Christensen, Fischer, Fiedler, Clapp and Jensen for about eight years when one of her colleagues, Jay H. Fiedler, died in 2004.
"His death had a great emotional effect on Wagner," her complaint said.
Wagner was friends with Galstad, who has been the East Grand Forks city attorney since 2002, for 15 years before she began working for him in 2006, according to her complaint.
Galstad fired Wagner about six months after she joined his office because of her "frequent absences," the complaint said, "caused by Wagner's depression and anxiety, of which Galstad knew."
Also, according to Wagner's complaint, Galstad fired Wagner a day before the anniversary of Fiedler's death, causing Wagner emotional distress.
The city of East Grand Forks neither denied nor confirmed any of Wagner's account, due to a lack of sufficient knowledge. Galstad declined to comment.
A decade later, Wagner completed the East Grand Forks Civil Service Exam. Her complaint said she received the second-highest score. Records obtained by the Herald show she actually ranked third among 20 other applicants, having scored roughly 82 percent.
Wagner later interviewed with the city for the position of secretary, dispatcher and jailer, and she was offered a job on the condition nothing negative came up in her background check.
"A conditional offer does not mean that someone has been hired," said Sullivan. "Because it really is conditional on them passing the additional requirements that must come after that."
The position was temporary, Chief Hedlund told the East Grand Forks City Council during a work session on Nov. 8, 2016, but it was likely the position would become permanent.
According to minutes from that meeting, Hedlund asked the council for permission to offer Wagner a higher salary based on her level of experience. Pieces of Wagner's application the Herald obtained show she has worked in various paralegal capacities with organizations, including UND and the city of Grand Forks.
The council was supposed to officially consider the request at the next City Council meeting on Nov. 16, 2016, but Hedlund notified Wagner the city was rescinding the offer.
Wagner's complaint alleges Hedlund discussed Wagner as a candidate with Galstad, even though she did not authorize the city to speak with him.
Hedlund declined to comment on Wagner's complaint.
In her complaint, Wagner said she confirmed the two men talked about her after requesting a copy of her background check from the city.
"The offer was not rescinded because of any conversation between Ron and Hedlund," said City Administrator David Murphy. "It had to do with what we got back from the background information."
The city was unable to share several pieces of Wagner's background report with the Herald due to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act for personnel and applicants.
Wagner is suing the city of East Grand Forks for $75,000, with her complaint saying that "as a result of the city's unlawful conduct" she has suffered "loss of past income and employee benefits, mental anguish, emotional distress, embarrassment and other damages."
Wagner's Fargo attorney, Lee Grossman, did not answer several calls and emails seeking comment for this report. Wagner's other Fargo attorney, Michael Andrews, referred the Herald to Grossman.
A judge for the U.S. District Court of Minnesota has scheduled a trial for March 10, 2020. Both the city and Wagner's team have until Sept. 6, 2019, to file all materials associated with discovery. Sullivan said she's confident the city will make a motion to dismiss the case in November.
"This is a case that the city doesn't feel there's any merit to her (Wagner's) claims," said Sullivan. "The city plans on vigorously defending this. And the city believes, and I believe, that we have a really good chance of obtaining that summary judge dismissal before trial."