Rochester councilmember’s lawsuit moves to federal court

Rochester councilmember’s lawsuit moves to federal court

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(ABC 6 News) – According to documents filed Monday, Feb. 12, councilmember Molly Dennis’ civil suit against the City of Rochester, Mayor Kim Norton, and councilmember Patrick Keane has been moved to federal court.

RELATED: Councilmember Dennis suit against city, mayor scheduled for September – ABC 6 News –

Six Olmsted County judges had previously filed to recuse themselves from the case, leaving Judge Joseph Chase in charge when the case was scheduled to be heard in Olmsted County.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 13, only the notice of removal and initial assignment notice had been filed in Federal Court documents.

There were no upcoming hearings scheduled by Tuesday afternoon.

Dennis gave the following email statement Tuesday:

“Many Rochester residents demand accountability and want transparency in government.  In cases where injustice and discrimination have occurred, I believe citizens have the right to hear their elected officials and city staff testify under oath.

Perhaps if this case is moved to federal court, it will help even the playing field.  No-one, including government officials or employees, are above the law.”

Dennis said the City of Rochester had made the decision to move the case to federal court, as she would have liked residents and constituents to view the proceedings in Olmsted County.

“Councilmember Dennis appears to be making various claims under federal law and had filed a complaint with the EEOC prior, so I believe the City has a right to move the case to federal court,” Norton wrote in an email statement.

The civil suit –claims and history

Molly Dennis, the Ward 6 representative, claims that Rochester staff violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and retaliated against her for opposing her own discrimination.

The City of Rochester communications director Jenna Bowman issued the following statement in January, when Dennis filed the lawsuit:

“The City of Rochester received a summons and complaint filed by Councilmember Molly Dennis on January 22, 2024. The defendants identified in the lawsuit are the City of Rochester, Councilmember Patrick Keane and Mayor Kim Norton. The City of Rochester is committed to defending itself from Councilmember Dennis’s claims against the City. It has retained outside legal counsel through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, as is standard with legal matters involving the organization. Due to the litigable nature of this item, the City of Rochester cannot comment further at this time.”

Dennis was formally censured by the city council in March of 2023.

The censure ended in January of 2024.

RELATED: Rochester City Councilmember Molly Dennis’s censure to end in New Year – ABC 6 News –

The city council claimed Dennis displayed inappropriate and at times, threatening behavior toward city staff.

RELATED: Public records show strained relationships between Rochester City Council and staff – ABC 6 News –

Dennis, however, claimed that the city was retaliating against behaviors that were part of her ADHD diagnosis. She later refuted the results of an investigation that claimed the city council had not discriminated against her.

The civil complaint first states that Dennis was functionally a City of Rochester employee, not an elected official, based entirely on the way she was treated by staff.

The ADA protects federal and state employees from discrimination on the basis of their disabilities, and also requires that city and state organizations provide reasonable accommodations for those hoping to take part in public programming.

Dennis requested compensation in “excess of $50,000” for each count listed in her lawsuit.

Dennis’ filing contains eight counts: four alleging that the city discriminated against her, one alleging retaliation, one alleging a violation of the Civil Rights Act, one claiming the city staff “demot(ed) Dennis to employee status without due process,” and one each naming Mayor Kim Norton, alleging that the mayor made a defamatory statement about a parking ticket Dennis received.