Labor and Employment

Mayor's Aide Files Discrimination Suit Over a Volunteer—the Mayor's Wife

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Ordinarily, an employment discrimination lawsuit against a government entity is sparked by a problem between employees, or an employee and a supervisor.

But an unusual case in Kansas City, Mo., involving an unusual full-time volunteer is stretching the boundaries of this area of law practice. The volunteer is Gloria Squitiro, the wife of Mayor Mark Funkhouser, and in a lawsuit filed in state court last week, former mayoral aide Ruth Bates says Squitiro’s remarks created a racially and sexually discriminatory work environment, reports the Kansas City Star. The suit names as defendants the mayor, his wife and the city.

Although city lawyers contend the municipality isn’t liable, because Squitiro isn’t an employee, outside legal experts say they may be wrong. Because Squitiro volunteers full-time, parking in the city garage, using a city desk and participating in staff meetings, Kansas City could indeed be liable, depending on the facts of the case and how Bates’ supervisors handled the situation. The mayor has said that his wife speaks on his behalf, which also could help Bates with her case.

The solution, for municipalities concerned about their own potential exposure, is a stricter policy on volunteers, says Kylar Broadus, an attorney who teaches business law at Lincoln University.

“They really should be putting in place an anti-nepotism policy and policies on what volunteers can and can’t do to limit their liability,” he says.

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