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Wayne McDonald, fired employee accused of sex harassment, sues Michael Hancock, Denver

Wayne McDonald doesn't want his job back, but he would like to clear his name. That's the main reason McDonald -- a friend and former staffer of Mayor Michael Hancock who was fired amid sexual harassment allegations -- has filed a lawsuit against the city, his attorney says. The lawsuit alleges that the city jumped on unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment, costing him his job and reputation.

Back in June, a day before the mayor had to face reporters at a news conference on Denver's budget, news broke that the city had fired McDonald due to "serious allegations of misconduct."

Mayor Michael Hancock at the June press conference where he discussed Wayne McDonald's firing.
Mayor Michael Hancock at the June press conference where he discussed Wayne McDonald's firing.
Sam Levin

McDonald has worked with the mayor in a variety of capacities for many years. He was his driver during his mayoral campaign, he attended college with Hancock and he also had a job at the Denver Urban League when Hancock was the organization's president. Most recently, the mayor appointed McDonald as his "special projects coordinator" for the city. That's the position McDonald lost after he allegedly made inappropriate comments in front of a female Denver police officer.

In September, McDonald's attorney said they would be suing the city and also had filed a complaint with the city's Board of Ethics.

Hancock hasn't said much on the matter, other than noting that he cares about McDonald and his family.

The lawsuit names the police officer who made the allegations, Hancock and Amber Miller, Hancock's press secretary.

"It is our position, and it has been from day one, that if the city had investigated the matter, they would have known that [the police officer] lied," says Anne Sulton, McDonald's attorney. "And special care should be taken for every case where sexual harassment is alleged, because of the impact it has on one's reputation."

The lawsuit goes into detail about the nature of McDonald's relationship with the police officer and how the news broke about the allegations of sexual harassment, which his attorney maintains are false.

McDonald was hired in July of 2011 as "executive advisor to the mayor, special projects manager," with an annual salary set at $85,000. Shortly after Hancock was sworn into office, he selected the police officer involved in the case to serve on his security detail, the lawsuit says.

McDonald did not direct or supervise this officer in anyway, but, the lawsuit says, "When McDonald travelled around the City with Hancock, McDonald would see and interact with [the officer]. They engaged in conversations ranging from workplace issues, sporting events, and personal matters."

They had regular non-work-related phone conversations aswell, and from September 12, 2011 to November 3, 2011, the officer called McDonald on his personal cell phone at least eight times, the suit alleges.

On the date in November, she called him at home in a conversation that lasted for 31 minutes. The call was recorded by the officer without McDonald's knowledge or consent, the lawsuit says.

The following month, they talked on the phone at least five times and the police officer and McDonald exchanged holiday gifts.

McDonald ended up transferring to the Department of Excise and Licenses in March; the last time he saw this police officer was that same month, when she came to the church he attends and he introduced her to his family members. From February through March, the officer called McDonald, on his personal cell phone, at least seventeen times, the suit alleges.

Continue for more details on the lawsuit against the city.

McDonald was informed about the allegations of sexual harassment, based on the recorded November phone conversation, in May, when city officials told him that he was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation and hearing. But later that month, he was told he could resign his job or he would be fired because of the allegations, according to the lawsuit.

Michael Hancock first responding to reporters in June about McDonald's firing.
Michael Hancock first responding to reporters in June about McDonald's firing.
Sam Levin

Sulton says McDonald asked for an opportunity for a hearing to defend himself, but City Attorney Doug Friednash simply said he was fired, without a hearing or even an official termination letter from the city.

In addition to denying allegations of harassment and arguing that McDonald did not have any opportunity to defend himself, the lawsuit also goes after the mayor and his press secretary for releasing information about his firing and the sexual harassment claims to the media the following month.

Through the lawsuit, McDonald is officially requesting a jury trial on the various claims in the case. That process, his attorney says, could take more than a year.

Sulton says McDonald doesn't want his job back, but he wants his name cleared, so he can find other employment.

"The primary purpose of the litigation is to clear his name," she says, adding, "It's still unknown to me why the mayor would do this -- that in any inquiries into any city employees...you would just...release [information] about an unsubstantiated allegation."

She says, "Nobody should get fired based on an allegation of wrongdoing."

The lawsuit calls for the defendants to jointly pay "all damages McDonald sustained as a result of Defendants' illegal conduct, including but not limited to compensatory damages for lost wages and benefits, damages to his reputation, anxiety, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish, plus pre- and post-judgment interest and other statutory penalties."

Sulton says he wants to move on from the situation but can't get a job.

Given that he now knows this is how the mayor responds to unsubstantiated allegations placed against a city employee, she adds, "It's not where he would want to return to work."

We've reached out to Miller and will update this post when and if we receive a response. As for Friednash, he has previously told us that McDonald's allegations have no merit, that he was an employee-at-will and that the city's actions were reasonable and appropriate. Today, he says he has not seen the lawsuit, and therefore cannot comment at this time.

Continue for excerpts from the lawsuit, including a text message Hancock sent to McDonald.

Here are some excerpts from the lawsuit. We've redacted the name of the police officer, since she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment.

Regarding phone interactions:

When McDonald traveled around the City with Hancock, McDonald would see and interact with [redacted]. They engaged in conversations ranging from workplace issues, sporting events, and personal matters.

From time to time, [redacted] telephoned McDonald while he was at his home to discuss personal matters, calling him as late as 7:39 PM.

From September 12, 2011 to November 3, 2011, [redacted] telephoned McDonald, on his personal cell phone, at least eight times.

On November 3, 2011, [redacted] twice telephoned McDonald while he was at his home. The first call was placed at 4:38 PM and lasted for one minute. The second call was placed at 4:39 PM and lasted for 31 minutes. Both telephone calls were tape recorded by [redacted] without McDonald's knowledge or consent.

From December 15, 2011 to December 24, 2011, [redacted] telephoned McDonald at least five times.

During the 2011 Christmas season, Hancock and McDonald exchanged gifts with several City employees, including [redacted]. [Redacted] gave a gift to McDonald. A few days later, McDonald gave a gift to [redacted].

From December 30, 2011 to February 1, 2012, [redacted] telephoned McDonald, on his personal cell phone, at least nine times.

Regarding the way McDonald learned of the allegations and was subsequently fired:

On May 18, 2012, McDonald was told to report to Room 389 of the City-County Building, 1437 Bannock Street, Denver, CO 80202.

When McDonald arrived, Hancock's deputy chief of staff Stephanie O'Malley and City attorney Doug Friednash told McDonald that [redacted] filed a complaint alleging that McDonald sexually harassed [redacted] and offering as [redacted]'s evidence the tape recording of McDonald's and [redacted]'s November 3, 2011 telephone calls that [redacted] recorded without McDonald's knowledge or consent.

McDonald denied that he sexually harassed [redacted].

Friednash asked McDonald if he would be willing to cooperate in an investigation that would be conducted by the Mountain States Employers Council (MSEC).

McDonald told O'Malley and Friednash that McDonald would fully cooperate with MSEC's investigation.

O'Malley asked McDonald to give to her all City property in his possession (office keys, badges and other City identification).

McDonald gave these items to O'Malley, and was walked out of the building while a police officer monitored his departure.

McDonald understood that he was suspended from his job pending the outcome of the MSEC investigation and a hearing.

On May 21, 2012, O'Malley asked McDonald to meet her at Racine's Restaurant in Denver.

When McDonald arrived at Racine's Restaurant, O'Malley and Friednash told McDonald that he could resign his job or he would be fired because [redacted] alleged McDonald sexually harassed her.

McDonald told O'Malley and Friednash that McDonald had done nothing wrong and asked for an investigation, hearing or other opportunity to defend against [redacted]'s false accusation that McDonald sexually harassed [redacted] and to clear his name.

McDonald told O'Malley and Friednash that the MSEC or other thorough investigation would show [redacted] lied when [redacted] claimed McDonald sexually harassed [redacted].

Friednash told McDonald that he was fired.

Regarding his firing and information provided to the media:

The unlawful actions Miller and Hancock took against McDonald were taken in malicious, willful, reckless indifference to, deliberate indifference to, and/or reckless disregard of McDonald's rights as guaranteed by Federal and State laws prohibiting government officials and/or employees defaming a public employee.

As a direct, foreseeable, and proximate result of Miller's and Hancock's intentional illegal conduct complained of herein, McDonald suffered injuries and damages, including but not limited to lost income and benefits, damage to his reputation, and emotional distress. These injuries and damages continue into the present and will continue into the foreseeable future.

As we've previously reported , the lawsuit says that Hancock reached out to McDonald and his family numerous times on numerous occasions since the firing. Here's an excerpt from the suit on that topic:

After McDonald was fired, Hancock repeatedly telephoned McDonald and his wife, sometimes leaving messages. McDonald and his wife did not answer or return Hancock's telephone calls.

On July 18, 2012, despite knowing that McDonald is represented by an attorney and having publicly stated "I'll let the legal team handle it", Hancock sent a text message to McDonald, stating: "Hey man, I've been thinking about you and have called you several times ..."

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Rape threats or "grape" threats? Bizarre arrest of high school student, alleged Hitler lover"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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