Fired public works employee files lawsuit against City of Bremerton

Suit claims investigation against employee was retaliation for letter of complaint he submitted

Former City of Bremerton Public Works employee, James Iovinelli, who was fired in May following a workplace misconduct investigation, recently filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the investigation was retaliation for a letter of complaint he submitted in 2018.

The investigation resulted in the firing of then Public Works Director Chal Martin, as well as the discipline of three city employees for a lack of supervisory oversight. Soon after, Iovinelli was fired as the investigation found that he was 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 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,” the lawsuit reads.

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 bringing his concerns to her attention and requested resolution, to which the letter was ignored, the lawsuit states.

In January, 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” that he was under 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.

Iovinelli allegedly 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.”

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