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Accord is near in city lawsuit

Harassment case negotiated

A settlement is underway in a federal lawsuit that states that Lawrence city officials failed to take proper action after learning that the city clerk allegedly sexually harassed an employee by using the woman's office computer to view pornographic websites and making sexually explicit comments.

Parties to the lawsuit, including the City of Lawrence and the former city clerk, James McGravey , reached a tentative settlement after a day long mediation session last week.

Kevin Powers , an attorney for Jennifer Padellaro , the woman who brought the lawsuit, said he was pleased with the settlement.

"I think it's reasonable," Powers said. "Both sides gave in to reach a compromise."

Powers said his client was not available for comment.

Charles Boddy , the Lawrence city attorney, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Thomas E. Peisch , an attorney for McGravey, declined comment. In court documents, he describes the lawsuit as "30 pages of false, vague, salacious, and irrelevant allegations." McGravey denies that he sexually harassed Padellaro, and the city denies that it failed to act properly, according to the documents.

Neither Powers nor any of the other lawyers would reveal details of the tentative settlement.

Padellaro began working for the Lawrence city clerk's office in 1987; she was appointed assistant city clerk in 1993; McGravey was promoted from assistant city clerk to city clerk in 1989, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleges that at the outset, Padellaro had a good working relationship with McGravey, and that things began to turn sour in September 1996 after Padellaro returned from maternity leave. McGravey, the lawsuit alleges, began joining Padellaro and her female co-workers at lunch and regaling them with stories "of a graphic, explicit sexual nature." When McGravey's wife, Carol Hajjar McGravey, who was then attorney for the city of Lawrence, joined the group for lunch, McGravey would speak civilly, the lawsuit alleges.

In court documents, McGravey admits having lunch with the women but denies that conversations were sexually graphic.

In 1998, Padellaro's lawsuit alleges, McGravey began visiting pornographic websites, including one called "Flash Mountain," which posts photographs of women exposing their breasts on a ride at Disney World. McGravey, in court filings, admits that in 1998 and 1999, he occasionally logged on to inappropriate websites from various locations at work, and that he and other city employees logged onto the "Flash Mountain" website.

Padellaro alleges that McGravey stated he believed one of the women portrayed on the website looked like Padellaro and showed the website to other workers in the office. The following day, the lawsuit alleges, McGravey brought into work a printed page of the website photo and gave it to Padellaro and told her she should show it to her mother. McGravey, in court documents, denies doing so.

The lawsuit alleges that in early 1999, pornographic websites began popping up on Padellaro's office computer. These were websites that McGravey had frequently mentioned, and Padellaro believed that McGravey was using her computer to view them, the lawsuit states. Padellaro informed the assistant city attorney of her concerns, and asked the director of information services to remove all Internet access from her computer, the lawsuit alleges. The director denied the request but gave her a password for the computer, which he also gave to McGravey, the lawsuit states.

In 2000, Padellaro, who reported sleep loss and headaches that she alleged were the results of McGravey's conduct, consulted a lawyer, who sent a letter to Lawrence's personnel director, Lawrence LeFebre, detailing McGravey's conduct. On May 8, LeFebre responded to the letter and stated that he "agreed with the charges and allegations made against" McGravey by Padellaro, according to the lawsuit, and would require that McGravey write a letter of apology to Padellaro and receive counseling about sexual harassment.

Padellaro alleges that she never received a letter; McGravey states that he wrote the letter, according to court records.

Afterward, according to the lawsuit, McGravey continued to make sexually explicit comments to Padellaro, including overtures to become his mistress, and also showed pornographic websites to other female employees. McGravey denies doing so, according to court filings. Padellaro alleges that she met with Mayor Michael Sullivan on June 29, 2004, and told him she was afraid to return to work. Sullivan told her that he would "take care of everything" and told her that he would place her on paid leave.

The city of Lawrence denies her account of the conversation, according to court documents.

On July 13, 2004, McGravey resigned. Patrick Blanchette , president of the City Council, called Padellaro to inform her of McGravey's resignation and told her it might not "look good" for the council to appoint her acting city clerk because she had made the complaint against McGravey, the lawsuit alleges.

The city, in court documents, denies the allegations.

Padellaro's lawsuit alleges that when she returned to work later that month, she faced animosity from co-workers. On Aug. 25, 2004, Padellaro's doctor advised her to remain out of work. In September, Padellaro states in the lawsuit, she was passed over for the job of city clerk in retaliation. The city denies the allegation.

The lawsuit alleges that as a result of the harassment and retaliation, Padellaro has suffered extreme emotional distress, weight loss, and recurrences of lupus-related symptoms, including joint pain.

The agreement must be approved by city officials, a process that could take several weeks, Powers said.

"This is not the type of case that either side wanted to try if they didn't have to."

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at