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Oldsmar denies wrongdoing in treatment of ex-worker

The city has formally denied all charges by a former employee who said she was discriminated against and forced to resign her job in the city clerk's office.

The city's seven-page response to a lawsuit by former secretary Mary Lee Brown was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tampa. In it, the city asserts "all personnel actions affecting (Brown) were based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons."

Brown, 55, was a secretary to then-City Clerk Cheryl Mortenson for nine years before resigning in March. She sued the city in August, claiming she was subjected to a hostile work environment, was sexually discriminated and retaliated against, and was forced to resign because she supported Mortenson.

Mortenson had complained in September 1995 that former City Council member Daryl Landis sexually harassed her. Brown had backed up her complaints.

In March of this year, City Manager Bruce Haddock decided to transfer Brown's position out of the city clerk's office to the community development office. Haddock had concluded that issuing business licenses, one of Brown's duties, did not belong in the city clerk's office.

But in her lawsuit, Brown said the transfer was retaliation, leaving her no choice but to resign.

Mortenson was fired in April by a controversial 4-1 vote of the City Council. Both Mortenson and Brown hired attorney Louis Kwall of Clearwater and filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC cleared the way for both to sue the city, but as of Monday, Mortenson had not filed a lawsuit.

Kwall said the city's response to Brown's lawsuit did not surprise him.

"That's totally appropriate," Kwall said.

Brown requested a jury trial in her lawsuit and is seeking attorney's fees and compensatory and punitive damages. In response, the city is seeking judgment against Brown and recovery of its legal fees.

Since her resignation, Brown has gotten a new job at Stewart Enterprises in Safety Harbor. Mortenson has launched a local women's magazine.