City of Bremerton employees deny allegations made by former public works employee

James Iovinelli submitted a complaint regarding his termination last year

After former Bremerton Public Works employee James Iovinelli filed an additional complaint against the City of Bremerton in December, alleging wrongful termination and violation of privacy, following his termination last year, the city has responded by requesting Iovinelli’s suit be dismissed with prejudice and without costs.

Iovinelli was fired in May of 2019 following a workplace misconduct investigation that found he had been known to conduct a side business pouring concrete during work hours and attempting to set up a deal to purchase two excavators — one for the city and one for himself — using city resources. The investigation also resulted in the firing of then Public Works Director Chal Martin, as well as disciplinary action against three city employees for a lack of supervisory oversight.

Initial Iovinelli lawsuit against City of Bremerton

In the initial lawsuit Iovinelli filed in October of 2019, he claimed that the investigation was retaliation for a letter of complaint he had submitted in 2018. The lawsuit alleges that during July 2016, Human Resources Manager for the City of Bremerton, Charlotte Nelson, notified Iovinelli there had been a suspected breach of confidentiality and HIPAA related documents about him by city staff. Iovinelli then made a public records request through his counsel in response to the disclosure.

“This disclosure and the ensuing investigation resulted in embarrassment for Charlotte Nelson and Bremerton staff,” court documents read.

After July of 2016, the lawsuit alleges that Iovinelli had been subject to “heightened scrutiny, harassment and criticism” by city staff, as well as Nelson and Streets Department Manager Milenka Hawkins-Bates. In November of 2018, Iovinelli presented a letter to Hawkins-Bates voicing his concerns but the letter was ignored, the lawsuit states.

In January 2019, Iovinelli was placed on administrative leave by the City of Bremerton during the investigation. The lawsuit alleges that he was repeatedly ordered by Nelson to “keep completely confidential” about the investigation and to not discuss any aspects with fellow employees, staff or colleagues or he would be subject to further discipline.

“Nelson’s orders interfered and restrained his ability to exercise his right to discuss employment conditions with his union colleagues,” according to the lawsuit.

According to documents Iovinelli repeatedly provided Nelson information showing he was innocent of the allegations levied against him, including the names of witnesses, documents, receipts and statements that countered the allegations.

“This information was ignored by Defendant Charlotte Nelson and other management,” the lawsuit states.

In May, Iovinelli submitted a claim for uncompensated work, unpaid overtime, and missed breaks and lunch breaks. The claim was denied by the City of Bremerton. The lawsuit claims that the City of Bremerton has not paid Iovinelli “all wages and overtime wages due,” and that the city had “willful violations” against him.

“Defendant’s actions constitute retaliation against Plaintiff James Iovinelli for his letter of complaint. Defendant’s orders prohibiting Plaintiff James Iovinelli from contacting any and all union colleagues under threat of further discipline interfered, restrained and coerced Plaintiff James Iovinelli from exercising his right to discuss workplace issues with union members.”

First Amended Complaint

In December, Iovinelli drafted his first amended complaint, alleging the City of Bremerton violated minimum wage requirements and labor standards, violated the Washington law against discrimination – wrongful termination – retaliation, unfair labor practice, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and violation of privacy.

“Defendants orders prohibiting Plaintiff James Iovinelli from contacting any union colleagues under threat of further discipline interfered, restrained and coerced Plaintiff James Iovinelli from exercising his rights to discuss workplace issues with union members,” the unfair labor practice portion of the complaint states.

“Defendants terminated Plaintiff Iovinelli because he filed a letter of concern with Defendants alleging that he was being harassed in the workplace in violation of Washington Law and public policy,” the wrongful termination in violation of public policy portion of the complaint states.

Defendants Response

The City of Bremerton, along with defendants Nelson and Hawkins-Bates responded to Iovinelli’s complaint in December, denying the allegations brought forward by the former public works employee.

“Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” the affirmative defenses portion of the defendants’ response states. “Plaintiffs’ claims for wrongful termination, retaliation, are properly dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to comply with administrative prerequisites that require filing a tort claim with the City and waiting the requisite 60 days before filing suit.”

“Plaintiffs’ unfair labor practice claim is barred by the statute of limitations,” documents read. “Plaintiffs have failed to mitigate their damages or protect themselves from avoidable consequences. Plaintiffs’ claims for unpaid wages are properly dismissed because there is a good faith bona fide dispute over whether plaintiff is owed any wages.”