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Former Pueblo Deputy City Clerk suing City of Pueblo and Mayor, claims discrimination

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- A former deputy city clerk for the City of Pueblo is suing the city and Mayor Nick Gradisar for alleged discrimination and retaliation.

In a 29-page lawsuit filed on July 27 obtained by 13 Investigates, Belinda Kimball, a former 14-year employee with the City of Pueblo, alleges that Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar passed her up for promotion to City Clerk despite Kimball's "superior qualifications for the position."

In March 2021, Gradisar appointed current City Clerk Marisa Stoller to the position. The lawsuit claims Stoller had no prior clerk experience and was never employed by the City of Pueblo before.

Belinda Kimball

Kimball, however, had spent 14 years with the city, holding positions including emergency services dispatcher, public works administrative technician, human resources analyst, and deputy city clerk.

The lawsuit claims that the City of Pueblo never advertised the city clerk vacancy last year. The lawsuit says a week after former city clerk Brenda Armijo resigned, Stoller was appointed to the position by Gradisar.

Court documents allege Gradisar did not use a "competitive process" to fill the city clerk vacancy as had been done in prior years.

Court records claim that Kimball had more experience in every job duty of the city clerk position in Pueblo. That includes attending City Council meetings and recording and transcribing minutes of City Council meetings, supervising the administration of liquor and marijuana license programs and processes, and coordinating and monitoring the preparation and publication of all city ordinances.

Due to this, the lawsuit claims, "Pueblo’s decision not to select Kimball for the City Clerk position was motivated by Kimball's race and/or age, and/or was taken to retaliate against Kimball for opposing discrimination."

"The city did not have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to pass her up for promotion to the position of city clerk," Kimball's attorney, Julie Yeagle said. "They said they hired her because of her qualifications but notably did not name any of those qualifications." 

Kimball is Hispanic and was 41 years old in March 2021. The lawsuit state that Stoller is white and was 33 years old in March 2021. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Kimball was retaliated against for opposing discrimination in the city clerk's office.

Court documents say an employee within the city clerk's office would regularly engage in discriminatory behavior towards minority citizens between November 2019 and February 2021. The employee is not named in the lawsuit. However, in a report filed to the Colorado Civil Rights Division obtained by 13 Investigates, the employee is identified as Daryl Payne, Municipal Records and Technical Coordinator in the City Clerk’s Office.

The lawsuit claims Kimball witnessed Payne "mistreating non-Caucasian City employees and customers who requested assistance with records requests." Court records say Kimball witnessed Payne speak to an Indian colleague in a "rude or demeaning manner."

It goes on to allege that Payne refused to assist a citizen of Asian descent and called Kimball to come assist the citizen during her lunch break.

Court documents say Kimball reported this behavior on multiple occasions to the Mayor's Chief of Staff Laura Solano, City Clerk at the time, Brenda Armijo, and sent an email to Mayor Nick Gradisar with the subject line "Please Help."

According to court records, Kimball outlined the "discriminatory" behavior in the clerk's office in that email.

A week later, court documents say Gradisar contacted Kimball by phone and told her he didn't think the behavior outlined in her email was "inappropriate." The lawsuit says Gradisar took no action to address Kimball's concerns.

A month later, when Stoller was appointed to the city clerk position, Kimball told Gradisar she felt she was “being punished and retaliated against for bringing forward discriminatory ad [sic] unfair concerns," court documents allege.

In April 2021, Kimball filed a charge of discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (“CCRD”) against Pueblo. After reviewing Kimball's claims, CCRD said there was "sufficient evidence" to support her claims of "discriminatory failure to promote based on national origin/ancestry and age and retaliation."

CCRD's investigation, however, did not find sufficient evidence to support her claims of "discriminatory terms and conditions of employment and constructive discharge," records say.

In July 2021, Kimball applied for the position "Human Resources Compliance Specialist" with the City of Pueblo, an attempt to transfer departments while still keeping her employment with the City of Pueblo.

Kimball's request to self-demote was denied by Gradisar. Court documents allege that this occurred because the Mayor "was angry that Kimball filed a charge of discrimination with the CCRD." Days later, Kimball resigned from working for the City of Pueblo altogether because "the work environment had become intolerable due to the continued discrimination and retaliation," the lawsuit claims.

In response to Kimball's filing with CCRD, the lawsuit says the City of Pueblo filed a position statement refuting Kimball's discrimination claims. Gradisar said Stoller was hired because of "her qualifications." However, the lawsuit claims the City of Pueblo could not identify any of her alleged qualifications, court documents say.

During an interview with CCRD, court documents say, "Mayor Gradisar stated that he appointed Ms. Stoller to City Clerk because he needed to 'bring someone from the outside in order to address the dysfunction in the [City Clerk’s] office.'"

The lawsuit says that "Mayor Gradisar made specific reference to Kimball's protected activity of reporting and opposing discrimination within the City Clerk’s office."

"There was an enormous insult in not being permitted able to apply or be considered and then to add insult to injury she then required to train Ms. Stoller once Ms. Stoller was appointed," Yeagle said.

On June 27, 2022, Kimball received a right to sue letter from the CCRD, court records say.

13 Investigates reached out to the City of Pueblo and the Mayor's Office to ask for comment on the lawsuit and its claims.

They issued this statement saying:

“The City of Pueblo normally has limited comment with regard to ongoing litigation matters, however the City denies Ms. Kimball’s claims that it discriminated or retaliated against her during her employment with the City.”

Haley Robinson -- Director of Public Affairs, City of Pueblo

The lawsuit asks for compensatory relief in the form of monetary damages. The "prayer for relief" also asks for an order to be placed that requires the City of Pueblo to promote Kimball to the position of city clerk or an equivalent position.

Kimball also demands that a jury trial be held in this civil case. The City of Pueblo now has 21 days to file a position statement in this case.

"The city decided to forgo even their own policies to appoint somebody who is demonstrably less qualified than Ms. Kimball," Yeagle said.

To read the full lawsuit, click here.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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