Ex-Planner Bray Sues City, Mayor in Sex Scandal
Charging that disclosure of her secret $100,000 payment in the San Diego City Hall sex-and-hush-money scandal “ruined her name and personal and professional reputations,” former city planner Susan M. Bray filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking an unspecified amount in damages from the city and Mayor Maureen O’Connor.
In a move prompted by the city’s rejection of a similar $2.35-million-plus administrative claim filed by Bray last spring, her Coronado attorney, Frank Rogozienski, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court asking that Bray receive both compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuit also asks that Bray be reinstated in a city job comparable to the one that she resigned early this year as part of a secret settlement stemming from her affair with then-Planning Director Robert Spaulding.
In settling the sexual-harassment claim that Bray had filed against the city as a result of that affair, former City Manager John Lockwood secretly agreed to pay Bray $98,531 and chose not to notify the City Council of the settlement to prevent it from becoming public.
Bray’s attorney, however, charged in Wednesday’s 38-page lawsuit that city officials violated that confidential agreement when they “disclosed and publicized (its) existence” after details about it had leaked to the news media in May.
City officials also made “disparaging and defamatory statements” about Bray, despite knowing that she was “particularly susceptible to emotional distress and bodily injury . . . if the city did not keep its promises,” Rogozienski charged in the lawsuit.
As a result, Bray has been “subjected to ridicule and extreme embarrassment,” shunned by her friends, unable to find another job and left with medical bills caused by her “severe emotional and physical distress,” the suit charges.
Mike Weaver, a private attorney who represents the city in the lawsuit, said Wednesday that he sees “no reason for alarm” over the 13 specific complaints included in the lawsuit.
“We’ve looked at these issues pretty closely and feel confident that we’ll prevail,” Weaver said.
O’Connor, who verified that Bray had received the secret payment in initial news stories on the controversy--and later spearheaded the drive that led to Spaulding’s forced resignation--was singled out as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, Bray’s suit specified that other individual defendants could be named later.
According to the suit, O’Connor personally violated the conditions of the confidential agreement by “indiscriminately publicizing” information about it. The mayor and other unnamed individuals did so, the suit alleges, “for the purpose of their own political agenda, personal aggrandizement, vengeance and other personal motivations.”
A spokesman for O’Connor did not return telephone calls Wednesday. However, Weaver, retained by the city because the conduct of City Atty. John Witt’s office is an issue in the case, said his firm will represent O’Connor and any other city employees charged in the suit as a result of performance of their official duties.
Bray’s lawsuit largely reiterates the arguments offered in the claim that she filed against the city in June seeking at least $2.35 million in damages, which was rejected at the same time that the city turned down a similar $2.75-million claim by Spaulding. Spaulding’s attorney, Michael Aguirre, has said that he, too, may file a lawsuit against the city.
In the suit, Rogozienski repeats a version of events surrounding the settlement agreement and Bray’s acceptance of it that City Manager Jack McGrory and other top city officials have previously disputed.
Between November, 1990, and March, the city “coerced” Bray to resign her position as a Gaslamp Quarter planner and to accept the secret settlement, Rogozienski charged.
At the time of the settlement, Bray was on disability leave as a result of the earlier harassment suit. Rogozienski contends, however, that the city threatened to withdraw her disability benefits unless she withdrew her discrimination claim.
“Having no other viable economic or medical alternative,” Bray accepted the settlement offer, the suit says.
The city knew that Bray “desired to return to her job, but had been told by her treating physicians she should not return to the same abusive, intimidating, hostile and offensive environment” spawned by her affair with Spaulding, Rogozienski charged in the suit.
Though Spaulding has characterized their affair as consensual, Bray contends that it was forced upon her and that she feared losing her job if she resisted her boss’s “unwelcome sexual advances.”
Even after city officials became aware of the allegations about Spaulding’s conduct, it failed to take proper action against him--"in furtherance of its ‘good ol’ boy’ fraternity,” according to the suit. Instead, it is contended, they began pressing Bray to resign and accept the secret settlement.
From the beginning of the controversy, however, city officials have consistently described Bray’s departure from City Hall as a “voluntary resignation.”
A crucial clause in the settlement agreement specifies the confidentiality provisions governing it. According to the agreement, the city “agrees to confirm, if asked, only that (Bray’s) termination of her employment was voluntary. . . . The City of San Diego agrees that it will not make or permit its employees to make any statements disparaging or defamatory of (Bray) or her personal or professional reputation.”
That pledge, Rogozienski argues, has been repeatedly violated by city officials in recent months--a claim disputed by city attorney Weaver.
“We don’t feel there was a breach,” Weaver said. “I have a sense that the council felt obligated to investigate and address an issue that involved taxpayers’ rights.”