Former Councilman Twito, city of Lehigh sued

Lawsuit brought by former city clerk claims she was sexually harassed

LEHIGH — A former Lehigh city clerk is suing the city and former City Councilman Troy Twito claiming she was intimidated, sexually harassed and essentially had to quit because she had “no chance of fair treatment.”

Kathy Gambill’s lawsuit, which was filed in September 2017 in Webster County District Court, is scheduled for a jury trial in February 2019.

Both Twito and the city of Lehigh have denied her allegations.

Twito did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Gambill began her job as city clerk around Jan. 15, 2015. She gave her two-week notice in early September 2016, around the same time Lehigh Mayor Paula Martin resigned.

In the suit, Gambill’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, of Des Moines, asserts that both Martin and former council member Kay Timmons also were harassed and intimidated by Twito, leading to their resignations. At the time, Timmons was the only female member of the council.

Attorneys for the city and Twito both deny this alleged harassment and intimidation.

Martin told The Messenger she couldn’t comment on the story, and a phone number for Timmons was unavailable.

The city is being represented by attorney Steve Kersten, of Fort Dodge, and Twito is being represented by attorney Melissa Schilling, of Des Moines.

In claiming gender discrimination, Gambill’s suit alleges Twito only harassed females.

Kersten’s response denied this allegation, and said, “it is affirmatively stated that Twito acted inappropriately with both men and women.”

In the suit, Conlin names two occasions when Twito allegedly called out to Gambill on her way back to the post office in Lehigh.

In summer 2015, she claims Twito drove past and shouted, “Don’t we pay you enough so you don’t have to stand on the street corner?”

In summer 2016, Gambill claims Twito drove by and yelled, “I thought you were a cute little hooker standing on the corner.”

In fall of that year, Twito allegedly told Gambill to come over to his lumber yard property. When Gambill told him she had an eye issue, Twito replied, “I have eye issues too. My eyes pop out of my head when I see a naked woman,” Conlin wrote.

Gambill told Martin about these incidents as they occurred, wrote Conlin.

Gambill’s suit claims that on one occasion Twito came into the office and played a recording to her of Twito having an argument with his significant other. Gambill said she didn’t want to hear about his personal life, Conlin wrote.

Twito also allgedly began screaming at Gambill on an occasion when he wanted to speak with her and one of the maintenance workers.

Gambill claims that at one council meeting Twito was questioning the number of hours she logged while consolidating the city accounts with the Fire Department and library. Twito hinted at firing Gambill, Conlin wrote.

“After the meeting had adjourned, Twito walked up to Ms. Gambill, grabbed, and hugged her. He stated ‘I hope we weren’t too hard on you tonight.’ Ms. Gambill pushed him away and left,” Conlin wrote.

In August 2016 Gambill received an oil invoice for the city, but the oil had been delivered to Twito, Conlin wrote.

“Ms. Gambill reported the incident to Mayor Martin because such practices were against city policy,” Conlin wrote. “Twito yelled at Ms. Gambill and Mayor Martin in order to intimidate, bully, and frighten them. Mayor Martin recorded the conversation at the request of Ms. Gambill to show to the city council.”

Twito later demanded Gambill hand over the tape, and threatened to sue her for taping him, according to Conlin.

Under Iowa code, a conversation can be recorded as long as one party consents to the recording. Consent from all parties involved is not needed.

Conlin wrote about a conversation between Martin and Gambill in late August 2016, in which Gambill said she was looking for a new job.

“Mayor Martin stated she did not know how much more of Twito’s behavior she could handle,” Conlin wrote.

In the city’s response, Kersten did not deny this statement.

Before the meeting at which Martin resigned, Gambill told council member David Hrubes of some of the issues and “sexual slurs” Twito had made toward her, according to Conlin.

“Hrubes said it was too bad he did not know about these comments before. However, Mayor Martin said that was a lie and that Mayor Martin had previously reported Twito’s behavior to Hrubes,” Conlin wrote.

Kersten wrote, “it is admitted that Mayor Martin had previously told Hrubes of Twito’s behavior to both males and females.”

At an October unemployment fact-finding interview, council member Doug Dellachiesa admitted that Twito harassed and intimidated Gambill, according to Conlin.

“He also confirmed that the city of Lehigh was aware of Twito’s actions,” Conlin wrote. “Mayor Martin was at the phone interview as well and planned to confirm Gambill’s allegations, but the interviewer did not need her after speaking with Mr. Dellachiesa.”

Kersten denies this.

Dellachiesa said harassment by Twito was the reason Gambill gave for her resignation, according to Kersten, but also stated “he didn’t know if it had gone so far” as she claimed.

“Dellachiesa never acknowledged any sexual harassment had been mentioned to him by plaintiff,” Kersten wrote.

Conlin said Martin’s resignation came “after the numerous instances of harassment, intimidation, and sexual harassment from Twito.”

Twito and the town deny this. Kersten said the resignation was not due to any alleged sexual harassment.

At the time, Martin told The Messenger, “There were several issues that needed to be resolved, and without the cooperation of everyone involved it was not possible for me to continue.”

Timmons resigned from the council in October 2016, Conlin wrote.

“She stated that Twito had also intimidated and harassed her,” Conlin wrote. “When she reported it to the city of Lehigh, they did not take her reports seriously. Phillip Richardson, a city council member, told the newspaper that no reason was given for her resignation.”

Richardson is now the Lehigh mayor. He said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the defendants discriminated against Gambill based on her sex and permitted harassment.

“Defendant Twito and the city of Lehigh knew or should have known of the conduct long before it was reported by Ms. Gambill,” Conlin wrote. “After the conduct was reported, the city of Lehigh failed to take appropriate remedial action.”

Writing for the city, Kersten stated Twito was never an employee of the city; he was an elected official. The city was not responsible for any of the complaints alleged against him.

If he did act as alleged, “Twito was not acting within the scope of his duties or pursuant to the Lehigh City Council Code of Conduct and ethics,” Kersten wrote.

Kersten and Schilling wrote that the defendants exercised “reasonable care to prevent any unlawful harassing behavior.” “Plaintiff unreasonably failed to properly take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the Defendants or to otherwise avoid harm,” both wrote.

As part of the discovery process, Gambill has been required to provide five years of medical records to the defendants. She was asked to provide medical records with no time limit, but successfully asked the court to limit discovery to five years.

The defendants sought medical records of Gambill because she had claimed mental and emotional harm, and sought compensation for “mental and emotional harm and anguish.”

“Until discovery is actually conducted, the parties have no way of knowing plaintiff’s mental health condition (e.g., whether she suffers from anxiety, depression, etc.), the extent of plaintiff’s mental health condition, the extent of her medical history, and the extent of her alleged damages,” wrote the defendants in a statement of their position.

The rule that applies in this case specifies defendants can seek this information going back five years, wrote District Court Judge Thomas Bice in his ruling on the question.

Defendants can seek more medical records later if necessary, Bice wrote.

A petition from Lehigh citizens seeking Twito’s resignation was brought to the council on Sept. 19, 2016. Twito submitted his resignation on Oct. 10, 2016.

Before he resigned, Twito was charged with fifth-degree theft over an incident that allgedly happened in July 2016. The charge stated he had removed an electrical meter from a pole near his property without permission from the city.

After he resigned, the charges were dropped.

Conlin wrote that Dellachiesa told Twito the city would drop the charges in exchange for Twito’s resignation.

Kersten and Schilling admit this.

But both wrote that the charges were dismissed by the State of Iowa, while Conlin wrote that the city of Lehigh dismissed the charges.

Attempts to reach Dellachiesa were unsuccessful.