Port of Kingston looking to settle Conners’ wrongful termination suit

If Conners agrees, port will pay $180,000

KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston is making moves to settle its only remaining lawsuit, a wrongful termination suit filed by former port employee Christine Conners. If settled, the port will pay Conners $180,000.

Conners alleges that she was fired by the port’s former manager, David Malone, on Sept. 8, 2015, for “mistaken or falsified allegations.” In court documents filed June 26, 2017, Malone denied Conners’ firing was retaliatory, and said he had previously given her an oral warning “for her tardiness and violation of the Port of Kingston’s dress code.”

No formal agreement has been signed yet, said Port of Kingston Executive Director Jim Pivarnik. The port, Pivarnik said, went into mediation with Conners on Thursday, June 7.

“We went back and forth with Ms. Conners and her attorney and we’ve come to a conclusion that we think works for everybody. Everybody, at least verbally, said so when we left the room on Thursday,” he explained.

“The two key items here [are] we will be paying her an amount of $180,000 to include all of her legal fees, all of her other fees and claims, in exchange for removing all claims against the Port of Kingston and David Malone.”

In addition to the $180,000, the port would change Conners’ reason for separation from the port to reflect that she resigned voluntarily.

“As far as the port is concerned, all parties agree that she resigned, was not terminated, and that we’re paying her $180,000 and we’re going to move on,” Pivarnik said. “This is the last piece of the puzzle, four suits down and we’re moving forward.”

Commissioners agreed on June 12 to authorize Pivarnik to pay Conners the $180,000 should she agree to the terms of the agreement. The commission also authorized the executive director to ensure that Conners’ personnel file reflects that she resigned from her position and was not fired.

Pivarnik said a large portion of the funds awarded to Conners will be covered by the port’s insurance. According to verbal agreements, the port is expecting to pay out $60,000, with the remaining $120,000 being covered by insurance. Pivarnik said he hoped to get a draft of the agreement to Conners’ attorney by Thursday, June 14.

“This is what we heard, this is what we agreed to verbally. If they sign that, then I will sign the document,” Pivarnik said.

If the port settles with Conners, the grand total paid out to plaintiffs in recent years will reach nearly $600,000. In March 2018, the port commission voted unanimously to approve a payment of $252,000 to Kingston resident Tania Issa, settling two suits Issa filed after the port failed to respond to public records requests stemming back to 2014. A 2017 public records suit saw $164,000 awarded to the owner of Kingston Adventures, Beth Brewster.

The previous public records suits were rooted in a dispute Malone had with Brewster and Issa. Malone initiated the eviction of Brewster’s business from the port’s marina for not having a lease agreement. Brewster had operated at the marina for three years without a lease agreement but with the port’s consent, and had paid rent for use of the port’s small-boat facility. Brewster said Malone retaliated against her because she questioned in a public meeting how the port was being managed.

“We think the best thing to do is settle this case and move on so the lawyers don’t continue getting rich,” Pivarnik said. “We had a court date in November but it would’ve been another $100,000 in legal fees if we kept this on. It was in everybody’s best interest to say, ‘Let’s go into mediation, let’s talk about this, let’s see what we can do to resolve it and move forward.’ I think from that point of view, the commissioners are very happy with it, hopefully Ms. Conners will be happy with it and we can just move on.”

When faced with the prospect of finally putting to rest the lawsuits leveled against the port under Malone’s tenure, Pivarnik said he was looking forward to some respite from the ongoing litigation.

“Tomorrow, I’m getting in my motorhome and I’m going to Cannon Beach for four days, and it’s like, ‘Gosh, I haven’t been gone for four days in so long!’” Pivarnik said.

“We’re really excited to move on, we have a new commission, a new director and a new vision of where we’re moving the thing forward to,” Pivarnik said. “This has been a distraction, it’s taking away time when we should be doing other things. I’m glad everybody came together and said, ‘let’s move on.’”

— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com.

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