Lawsuit: Ex-Cayuga County deputy emergency director claims sexual discrimination
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Lawsuit: Ex-Cayuga County deputy emergency director claims sexual discrimination

A lawsuit from a former deputy director of Cayuga County's Emergency Management Office says the county sexually discriminated against her by creating a work environment so hostile "she had no choice but to resign."

Filed in state Supreme Court last Friday, the lawsuit from Maureen Conley says she was the victim of "hostile and retaliatory treatment at the hands of her colleagues and supervisors."

Conley, a 10-year employee at the emergency office, resigned in late January of this year along with Director W. Douglas Whittaker, who had just been appointed to that position in December.

The resignations left Deputy Director Niel Rivenburgh as the office's only full-time employee. For much of 2017 and 2018, Rivenburgh served as the office's acting director after longtime director Brian Dahl became ill.

Less than a month after Conley's resignation, Rivenburgh was placed on administrative leave, a move that came shortly after multiple fire chiefs from departments across the county — which the office works closely with — said they lacked faith in Rivenburgh.

At the Cayuga County Legislature's February meeting, a number of fire chiefs and department personnel asked legislators to reinstate Conley as a deputy director.

Conley's lawsuit specifically mentions both Rivenburgh and former County Administrator J. Justin Woods as contributing to a hostile work environment, although they are not named as defendants.

According to the suit, Rivenburgh "engaged in a pattern of disrespect, verbal abuse and intimidation" towards Conley for many years by often yelling and acting with anger, among other things.

"Due to the continuing and increasingly hostile behavior towards Plaintiff, Plaintiff was placed in a position such that she felt she had no choice but to resign," the lawsuit reads.

Additionally, the suit claims that, on Jan. 25, Conley was told in a meeting with Woods and Rivenburgh that Rivenburgh would be assigned as acting director after Whittaker's resignation.

That was contrary, according to the suit, to assurances Conley had received from Woods prior to Jan. 2019 that Rivenburgh would not be put in a position of authority.

In response, Conley resigned that same day, saying in a letter of resignation that she could "no longer be a part of what's happening in this County, more more specifically in the Office of Emergency Services."

Asked for comment Tuesday, Cayuga County Attorney Chris Palermo said the county had yet to be served a copy of the lawsuit, but said he would be unable to comment regardless, citing confidentiality for personnel matters.

Conley's suit claims that the county violated New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 296 (1)(a), discriminating against her on account of her sex by interfering with her work and creating an environment so hostile as to necessitate her resignation.

As a result, the suit asks to be reimbursed for damages based on the loss of past and future earnings and benefits, in addition to pain, embarrassment, and distress, along with interest, costs, expenses and attorneys' fees.

Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin.


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