CITY HALL – A white male former top official in the office of black city Comptroller Darlene Green is suing Green and the city, contending race, gender and age discrimination in events that led him to retire.
In a suit filed Nov. 27, the former official, James Garavaglia, claims Green placed him under extreme pressure to quit or retire as deputy comptroller in a “pattern of discriminatory treatment and harassment by defendants, motivated by their efforts to find a non-discriminatory basis as pretext to justify plaintiffs termination while intending to replace plaintiff with a younger African-American female employee.”
In a number of instances, says the suit filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri, Garavaglia heard Green say that she’d rather have young black female employees in her office.
Three times, Garavaglia was placed on forced leave, the suit said. The suit also contends that Green did that so she could audit Garavaglia and find a good reason to justify his termination or to get him to resign or retire. Each time, City Director of Personnel Richard Frank approved the forced leave, the suit said.
After receiving notice of a pre-termination hearing set for Sept. 12, 2019, Garavaglia filed for retirement, effective Oct. 1, the suit said. The hearing then was canceled, and he was replaced by a much younger African-American female.
“He viewed this experience as harassment,” said Richard B. Blanke, one of two attorneys who are representing Garavaglia. “She did it because she’s an older white guy.” He was 67 at the time, Blanke said.
Another attorney, Paul L. Schmitz, also is representing Garavaglia.
Tyson Pruitt, a spokesman for Green, declined to comment on the suit.
A city resident and a civil service worker, Garavaglia worked for St. Louis for about 32 years. During the last three years, he was deputy comptroller.
According to the suit, about April 2019 Green specifically asked both Garavaglia and another the deputy comptroller of accounting services, who is white and female, about whether they planned to stay. Garavaglia told her he would work until April 2021, when Green would stand for election to another term.
Garavaglia also did not receive regular civil service ratings of his performance, the suit said.
The suit asks for a jury trial and back pay retroactive to Oct. 1, 2019, when he retired. In lieu of reinstatement, he seeks reasonable additional pay and benefits.
Garavaglia also asks for money to compensate him for his “emotional pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, embarrassment and loss of esteem” and for punitive damages. And he’s asking for reasonable lawyers’ fees.
In addition, Garavaglia asks for the court to enjoin the city and Green from such behavior in the future.
Garavaglia filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Dec. 8, 2019, alleging that Green and the city terminated his employment because of his age, gender and race. The Missouri Commission on Human Rights then automatically opened its own file.
The EEOC has issued a letter saying Garavaglia has a right to sue in the case, while the Missouri Commission on Human Rights plans to issue such a letter.