AUBURN, Calif. (KTXL) — A female employee with the city of Auburn filed a lawsuit against the city on Nov. 3, alleging multiple acts of gender discrimination and harassment, primarily from the city manager.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern Division of California, Sacramento Division.

Auburn Senior Planner Tonya Ward was hired by the city on June 11, 2018, under then-City Manager Robert Richardson and worked directly under then-Planning and Public Works Director Bernie Schroeder, according to the lawsuit.

Schroeder retired on March 25, 2020, and Richardson retired on August 10, 2020. The city then hired John Donlevy as the new city manager.

The lawsuit states that Donlevy, “does not view women as equals and felt free to treat them differently than men and felt free to harass them because of their gender and to sexually harass them.”

By December 2020, Ward took her complaints of mistreatment by Donlevy to the Auburn city attorney which “did no good and Donlevy continued to mistreat her,” according to the lawsuit.

After Ward’s supervisor, Richardson, retired in March 2020, she was the only person in her department and had been given the ability to bring on consultants to complete tasks as needed, according to the lawsuit.

Donlevy denied Ward that permission and placed her under the supervision of the fire chief, who also denied Ward additional resources, the complaint says.

“Donlevy and the fire chief obstructed Plaintiff’s work performance and denied her resources which led to a backup of planning work,” the lawsuit reads. “While this was going on, Donlevy gave male department managers the support and resources they needed to be successful and treated them equally.”

The lawsuit states that Ward was also denied a request for software systems that would allow her to track planning projects and was kept out of a “city systems committee meeting.”

Ward was not the only female employee that was a witness and victim of Donlevy’s sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that while in the process of hiring an assistant “he openly told staff that he would only hire a woman and she would have to be ‘cute as a button.'”

“When he (Donlevy) was explaining a repair to a sewer line, he told the woman employee, ‘it’s just like putting a condom on,’ and ‘you know what I mean,'” the complaint says.

During a meeting, he allegedly commented on the attire that women used to wear and that times were better when only men were in meetings, according to the lawsuit.

“Multiple women employees complained to Plaintiff (Ward) that they were ‘grossed out, creeped out’ or disgusted by Donlevy,” the lawsuit reads.

Ward took a “stress leave” in late March 2021 and early April 2021 and when she returned “Donlevy retaliated against her by putting her on an informal performance improvement plan and overloading her with unreasonable demands.”

Ward sent complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and on Sept. 10, 2021, received a request for a position statement from the city.

According to the EEOC, “a position statement focused on the allegations of the charge help EEOC accelerate the investigation and tailor its requests for additional information.”

On Sept. 22, 2021, Ward received notice from the city that she was being placed on a formal performance plan and had no meetings about the performance plan for months, according to the lawsuit.

A meeting was held with Ward and Donlevy on May 6, 2022, regarding the performance plan. Donlevy then disclosed the performance plan to a co-worker “in an effort to defame” Ward.

In August 2022, Ward was given a written reprimand by Donlevy and on Sept. 22, 2022, another performance meeting was held where Donlevy reportedly “verbally degraded” Ward.

Around the same time that Ward was given the written reprimand, a fellow female co-worker filed a formal complaint against Donlevy for harassment and discrimination, according to the lawsuit.

Donlevy announced on Oct. 3, 2022, that he would retire from the city by the end of the year.

Ward “prays for judgment as follows:”

  • For special, compensatory and incidental damages (including past and future lost wages, lost compensation, and other losses) in an amount to be proven at trial
  • For general damages, including mental pain and anguish and emotional distress in an amount to be proven at trial
  • For attorneys’ fees and costs of suit and allowed by law
  • For such and further relief as this Court may deem proper