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.

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