Woodbury employee claims retaliation ended his job with city

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A former City of Woodbury employee said he's evaluating legal options after the city terminated his position in the public works department.

City Council members unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday to remove James Snow, a city employee of five years, from his position with Engineering and Public Works' streets and stormwater division.

The resolution called for a non-disciplinary termination.

Snow requested a public discussion and attended the meeting with International Union of Operating Engineers - Local 49 representatives.

The city cited Snow's medical issues, which they say hampered his ability to perform essential job functions, for their decision. But Snow called the decision a result of "retaliation and collusion" within the public works department.

Snow described his chronic pain and disabilities from injuries he suffered in 2015 while rescuing a coworker who lost consciousness and fell into a water structure.

A tear to his right rotator cuff prevents him from lifting more than 60 pounds, he said.

Snow also said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident, along with spinal injuries and a pinched nerve.

During the discussion, City Administrator Clinton Gridley said Snow's inability to perform certain tasks caused hardship for the rest of the department and reduced the volume of non-essential tasks.

The 19-person crew's operations, Gridley said, have continued with one less person than allocated.

As a result, he said employees have had to take on more tasks including street maintenance, snow control, surface water, construction maintenance and repair tasks.

"Because of the foregoing the sufficiency and efficiency of the operation of the city, the engineering and public works department is jeopardized and employee morale has been negatively impacted," Gridley said.

Although federal law requires employers to reasonably accommodate workers' disabilities, they do not require employers to reallocate tasks or create a new position.

Gridley said Snow's requests for accommodation, including leave time, would not effectively enable Snow to perform his job's essential functions.

Snow, however, said his injuries do not require other employees to shoulder his responsibilities, and he needs modifications beyond a 60-pound lift restriction.

"When anything is heavier, anyone that works with the city always asks each other for a hand," he said. "This is a practice and preached at all the safety meetings with every employee."

Instead, he said, a series of poor performance evaluations since his injury served as retaliation for a grievance he successfully filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He said he lodged the complaint after his supervisor dismissed his injury as "just getting older" and healing slower.

Following the grievance, Snow said supervisors, administration and human resource staff from the city routinely subjected him to harassment and verbal attacks.

In another instance last spring, Snow said he was assigned to shovel nearly 30 tons of pothole patching material over two days. The task would be difficult even for people in peak physical condition, he said.

Snow described hostile working conditions that left him "demoralized, humiliated" and "emotionally embarrassed."

"This is not for non-disciplinary reasons," he said. "This is for turning the city in to the EEOC for discrimination and harassment."

Representatives from Local 49 did not immediately respond to requests Thursday.