Eldridge City Administrator Lisa Kotter has filed a gender discrimination complaint against three city officials.
The 10-page complaint, filed Aug. 16 with Eldridge City Council member Bernie Peeters, was submitted one week after Kotter was placed on paid leave following two sexual harassment complaints by building inspector Ray Nees.
Nees, Mayor Marty O'Boyle and City Council member Brian Dockery are named in Kotter's complaint, which accuses them of making inappropriate comments to her while berating, undermining and reprimanding Kotter in front of city staff who report to her. Kotter alleges no male city employees are treated in the same manner.
Kotter was hired in March 2020 following the retirement of John Dowd, who served as city administrator for 30 years. Dowd was appointed interim administrator while Kotter is on leave.
Annette Snyder, owner of the Employment Source in Bettendorf, was hired by the city for $5,000 to investigate the complaints by Nees against Kotter. Snyder met with Nees on Aug. 16 in the afternoon, hours before council members had awarded her the contract.
Snyder then met with Kotter on Aug. 24 and discussed both complaints, but Kotter said she had to provide her discrimination complaint to Snyder because the city had not.
Peeters said Snyder's report would be completed on Thursday regarding the sexual harassment allegations. He said Kotter's complaint also would be investigated by Snyder once the city has amended its contract with her.
Sexual harassment complaint
Nees' complaint against Kotter stems from two comments made by Kotter more than one year ago.
Nees sent an email to Kotter, copying O'Boyle and all City Council members Aug. 5, stating he had provided information to the city's personnel committee about "complaints of sexual harassment against Lisa Kotter for two separate incidents of sexually explicit comments including one wherein she indicated she would insert her hand into my rectum and another wherein she asked if I didn’t like sweat running down my buttcrack," Nees wrote.
Kotter said in an interview with a Quad-City Times and Moline Dispatch-Argus reporter that in April 2020, a shipment of latex gloves had arrived at City Hall and as she and a group of employees opened the box, she made a 'turn your head and cough' comment.
"It was not a sexual comment nor was it in any way intended to be sexual," Kotter said. "The comment was a medical reference, since prior to having to get gloves at City Hall, these types of gloves were located at medical facilities. I clearly did not ever say to Mr. Nees 'I would insert my hand into his rectum.' This is a false allegation by Mr. Nees."
Kotter also denied Nees' allegation about the other comment, made during a hot July day in 2020.
"I said it was so hot that it was 'sweaty butt crack weather.' I was referring to how hot and gross it was for anyone to be working outside when it was such a high temperature," Kotter said. "It was not a sexual comment directed at Mr. Nees nor was it in anyway intended to be sexual. Furthermore, the comment was made to all of the employees present in the office at that time."
Alleging gender discrimination
In her complaint, Kotter stated: "Mr. O’Boyle has berated, criticized, reprimanded, interfered with and rated my performance negatively for completing my job responsibilities and duties as they are defined by Eldridge city ordinance Title A, Chapter 3, Section 4. Male employee department heads are not subject to this behavior and receive favorable treatment by the mayor when they perform the same or similar duties."
Kotter said O'Boyle would not allow her to make basic hiring decisions for clerk positions, even though as city administrator, it is her role to carry out such responsibilities. She noted the police chief is allowed to hire for the department without oversight or interference from O'Boyle or council members.
"I have never been told why the mayor refuses to allow me to hire even entry-level employees when it is clearly my responsibility as administrator, while even a newly appointed police chief (male) is praised for doing the same thing," Kotter wrote. "I believe I am treated this way by the mayor because of my gender."
Reprimanding and berating treatment
Kotter alleges an ongoing pattern of disrespect toward her by O'Boyle in front of city staff who report to her.
"The mayor has refused to enter my office for the past six months and will stand in the hallway so that everyone can hear what he is saying to me. He has stated things like 'I am not coming in to your office because I do not trust you' and 'stay in your lane, Kotter' so that others who report to me can hear him. I have been verbally reprimanded for discharging my duties per city code in front of the former and current police chiefs, the former assistant city administrator, the building inspector and city clerk, all of whom report to me," Kotter wrote in her complaint.
During city council meetings, Kotter said O'Boyle made her move her chair away from the meeting table and sit off to the side, along the wall, "in an effort to marginalize and humiliate me," she said. During his tenure as administrator, Dowd had a seat at the table next to the mayor.
Kotter said O'Boyle also "is vocal and outspoken of his disdain toward me at city council meetings" to the point where several residents contacted O'Boyle about his behavior.
Additionally, Kotter said O'Boyle made comments in her performance review that she wears "old clothes” and that her "clothes are inappropriate."
"He did not state that my clothes were unprofessional," Kotter said. "I believe that his comments were made because of my gender."
O'Boyle declined to comment Tuesday on the allegations, saying he will save his comments for the investigator.
"The investigation has not started yet," O'Boyle said. "I'm not going to comment on anything at this point."
Kotter alleges Dockery undermines her role as administrator and like O'Boyle, "also treats male employees, including male department heads, more favorably under similar circumstances than he treats me as city administrator."
One example she gives is a conversation Dockery had with council member Frank King, in which Dockery said he planned to bring Dowd back temporarily so he could prepare the city's 2022 budget, even though it is Kotter's responsibility as the current administrator to do so.
"Dockery stated to Frank King, 'Lisa said she f...ing knew how to do a budget ... and she better get the budget done,'" Kotter stated in her complaint. "Dockery also referred to this idea of calling Dowd as his back up 'plan B, C or D for the City.' I consider the use of the word 'f ... ing' as retaliatory, offensive and is degrading to me. In contrast, Dockery has never developed or announced a 'back up' plan for male employees prior to them having an opportunity to complete their job responsibilities."
King confirmed overhearing Dockery's comment about Kotter and the budget, which was made as they were exiting City Hall following a meeting.
"There have been multiple times they have tried to set (Kotter) up for failure," King said. "No matter what they put on her, she comes through like a rock star. She's a very strong woman and very good at her job. So (O'Boyle and Dockery) resorted to degrading and humiliating her.
"Lisa made it through more than 30 mostly male candidates to be chosen city administrator," King said. "I thought she was a good candidate then, and I still feel the same way. I think she's a great person and good for our city; and I haven't changed my mind."
Kotter also describes an incident in her complaint in which Dockery invited her to have drinks in his home basement and allegedly told Frank and his wife, Angie King, that "when Lisa drinks too much she can sleep in his basement bedroom instead of driving home."
"I am not aware of other male employees of the city being invited to drink and stay overnight in Dockery’s home," Kotter said. "I consider this comment Dockery made sexist, degrading and totally inappropriate."
Dockery disputed Kotter's account of the incident.
"That's not accurate," Dockery said Tuesday. "There was a group of people out and about in Davenport and I said, 'sometime we should have a drink in my basement.' I said it to a group of people. I've invited many people to my house; it's nothing out of the ordinary."
Dockery said when Kotter interviewed with the city, he and another council member gave her the highest rating. He called her gender discrimination complaint a "defensive tactic" in response to the harassment complaint filed by Nees.
"I actually sat down with Lisa and tried to help her," Dockery said.
Peeters declined to comment on Kotter's job performance or either investigation.
"Whatever happens, Eldridge will move forward and we will get to the place where we want to be," Peeters said.