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DEC 16 - DEC 24, 2014

City Hires Hodgson Russ to Fight
Age-Discrimination Complaint

By Anna M. Howard

December 16, 2014

Young At Heart: While Kristen Grandinetti (l) told the Buffalo News the council needs a "young fresh face", Charles Walker told the Gazette the council needs someone "young." Former Council Secretary Kevin Ormsby, 61, was just plain too old for the council majority.

Niagara Falls - The Council majority and the Dyster administration, after ignoring the recommendation of a New York State Division of Human Rights judge to pursue a settlement with regard to a complaint of age-discrimination filed by former council secretary, Kevin J. Ormsby, has hired the Hodgson Russ law firm of Buffalo to represent the City and Council members Charles Walker, Andrew Touma and Kristen Grandinetti.

Hodgson Russ has been the go-to law firm that the Dyster administration repeatedly hires in place of the mayor's four member city legal staff.

The hiring of Hodgson Russ came suddenly as the City and Council faced a two day hearing on Ormsby's complaint that was set for December 10 and 11 in Buffalo. That hearing had been scheduled almost five months in advance.

Hodgson Russ argued that their short notice hiring, a medical appointment, and the snowstorm that occurred before Thanksgiving had forced them to require additional time to prepare the case. As a result the age-discrimination hearing was moved to February 2015.

"After sitting on their hands for more than three months, and after essentially refusing to arrive at a settlement at the directive of a New York City judge, the City and Council majority hired an outside law firm and started the meter ticking," said a local attorney familiar with the Dyster administration. "When that meter starts moving it's at great expense to the taxpayer," said the source.

Ormsby was 61 at the time he was removed from his council secretary position in December 2013. He was replaced with Ryan Undercoffer, 24 a friend of the Dyster administration and political operative from the City Democratic Committee.

Walker told the press at the time that he hired Undercoffer because "he is young and qualified," while Grandinetti remarked to the press that she desired "a young fresh face."

Ormsby filed the age-discrimination complaint in February with the New York State Division of Human Rights in Buffalo. After a lengthy investigation the Buffalo office issued a finding of Probable Cause in July supporting Ormsby's claim.

Ormsby, Mayor Dyster's former media specialist, represented himself from the complaint filing through the finding of Probable Cause. The Reporter understands that attorney Andy Fleming of Hamburg, NY, has been representing Ormsby since August.

City hall insiders told the Reporter that at the time of Ormsby's filing, Dyster's law department had scoffed at the chances of Ormsby representing himself to a level of Probable Cause, but he proved them wrong.

The discrimination complaint, having been filed with the state, is automatically cross- filed with the federal government.

In the state's "Determination After Investigation" they wrote, in part, "After investigation the Division has determined that it has jurisdiction in this matter and that Probable Cause exists to believe that the Respondents have engaged in or are engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of…the record supports complainant's allegations that he was terminated based on his age. The evidence indicates complainant was terminated and replaced by a younger person. Witnesses verify that the decision makers made comments stating the reason for complainant being replaced was based on age."

At the time the Probable Cause was reported upon in the Reporter (Jul 29, 2014) Mr. Ormsby was quoted as saying "I trust the City and Council majority will value the state's determination and respect the state's finding by moving forward in good faith."

It appears that the City and Council majority have no intention of respecting the New York State Division of Human Rights finding or of proceeding in good faith.

"It's no surprise that Dyster and the Council majority hired Hodgson Russ. It's an obvious favor to a Dyster campaign supporter," a legal expert with past ties to the city law department told the Reporter. "Unfortunately the taxpayers are paying the City and Council legal fees."

Others have remarked that hiring outside counsel to fight Ormsby is an imprudent move by the Dyster administration since it makes it appear that the mayor did, after all, have a hand in removing Ormsby and of practicing age-discrimination. Until now the unofficial blame within city hall had fallen upon Walker, Touma, Grandinetti and Ruby Pulliam, Dyster's Director of Human Resources.

"This has the mayor's fingerprints," said a city department head that requested anonymity. "For five years Ormsby worked to make Dyster look like a statesman, writing quotes, press releases, proclamations, he did it all. Then the mayor pulled him from the 2012 budget and in 2013 the Council majority and mayor take him out a second time as council secretary. I can't understand why the mayor and Council majority have gone after a very capable and well-liked employee like this," said the city hall source.

The irony of Dyster, who pledged to end discrimination in city government when he took office in 2007, now being involved in an age-discrimination complaint has not been lost on local government observers.

In addition there are Councilman Walker, a leader in the African-American community and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, a vocal supporter of women's rights, abortion rights and sexual orientation rights having been investigated and found by the NYS Division of Human Rights to have discriminated against Ormsby.

The reason for the City and Council's move to delay the age-discrimination hearing could be linked to the rumor that Ormsby, a cancer survivor, is ill.

"This wouldn't be the first time delaying tactics were used in order to wait out a sick plaintiff," said our source. "The federal government used that trick on Agent Orange victims, hoping the veterans would die before the government had to settle."

Repeated attempts to reach Ormsby for comment were unsuccessful.





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