Mill Creek settles ex-spokesperson’s lawsuit for $95,000

Joni Kirk claimed the former mayor wanted her out and that she was wrongfully fired. The city denies wrongdoing.

Joni Kirk (City of Mill Creek)

Joni Kirk (City of Mill Creek)

MILL CREEK — A $95,000 settlement will end a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a Mill Creek ex-spokeswoman who was fired in 2019.

Former Mill Creek communications director Joni Kirk alleged she was ousted for reporting the misconduct of a past city manager, according to the lawsuit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court more than two years ago.

The city has publicly stated Kirk was fired for “poor judgment,” including her decision to record a conversation with a subordinate employee without that employee’s knowledge or consent, in violation of state law.

About $63,400 will be paid to Kirk for “general damages,” according to the settlement. Roughly $31,600 will go to her lawyer, Everett attorney Rodney Moody.

The payout will be made by the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, a liability risk pool that includes Mill Creek and many other municipalities across the state.

Mill Creek officials maintain they did nothing wrong. The settlement states it “does not reflect an admission of fault.”

The agreement also bars Kirk and the city from discussing the agreement or disparaging one another.

She initially sought $500,000 in damages from the city, as well as back pay and reinstatement to her position.

Her lawsuit alleged that former Mill Creek Mayor Pam Pruitt wanted to remove her and three other top city officials after they filed formal complaints in 2018 about the behavior of ex-city manager Rebecca Polizzotto, whom the council later fired amid allegations that she bullied staff and misused her city credit card.

Pruitt had a close relationship with Michael Ciaravino, according to the lawsuit, who was hired as the next city manager in the spring of 2019 and who terminated Kirk that August.

Both Pruitt and Ciaravino were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

In March 2019, Kirk decided to fire the subordinate employee for poor performance. She recorded the meeting with him because the city’s human resources manager couldn’t be present, according to her lawsuit.

State law requires consent from everyone involved in a private conversation between two or more people before making an electronic recording.

The city later reported her actions to Everett police for investigation, according to court filings in the lawsuit. But she was never charged with a crime.

Pruitt abruptly resigned from the City Council in August 2020, a day after informing fellow council members of her intent to retire.

After a turbulent tenure at the city, Ciaravino also stepped down suddenly in November, citing family medical matters.

Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis dismissed other claims made by Kirk’s attorney, including that she suffered defamation because of public statements city officials made after her removal. She had also accused the city of illegally withholding a report by a third-party investigator that the city hired to determine whether her actions broke the law.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

News logo for use with stories about Mill Creek in Snohomish County, WA.
Mill Creek house fire displaces 3

Firefighters responded to a house fire in the 14100 block of 30th Avenue SE early Tuesday morning. No one was injured.

Alyvia Nguyen, 8, climbs on leaf shaped steps at the new Corcoran Memorial Park playground on Friday, July 12, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Bothell-area park ‘could not be a more fitting dedication’

In 2019, Jim Corcoran donated $1.5 million worth of land to become a public park. He died before he could see it completed.

Cars line up for the Edmonds ferry in Edmonds, Washington on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ferry line jumpers face a $145 fine — and scorn from other drivers

Law enforcement is on the lookout for line cutters. It’s a “hot-button issue that can lead to something worse.”

Mother charged in Stanwood toddler’s fentanyl overdose death

Morgan Bassett woke up in January 2022 and found her daughter wasn’t breathing. Last week, she was charged with manslaughter.

FILE — Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 23, 2024. Former President Donald Trump has chosen Vance to be his running mate, wagering that the young senator will bring fresh energy to the Republican ticket and ensure that the movement Trump began nearly a decade ago can live on after him. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)
J.D. Vance is Trump’s pick for vice president

Vance, once a Trump critic, is an ambitious ideologue who relishes the spotlight. His selection comes just days after Trump survived an assassination attempt.

Former president Donald Trump is seen with a bloody ear as he is assisted off the stage during a campaign rally in Butler, Pa., on Saturday. MUST CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Pops, screams and then blood: On the scene at the Trump rally shooting

Isaac Arnsdorf, Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post BUTLER, Pa. - The… Continue reading