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Beach faces second 'whistleblower' lawsuit

News Herald - 1/13/2018

Jan. 13--PANAMA CITY BEACH -- A former building department employee for Panama City Beach has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city, claiming she faced a hostile work environment for reporting disparate treatment because of her age, gender and disability.

Administrative support specialist Heidi Murray filed the lawsuit Jan. 4 in circuit court. In the lawsuit, Murray claims that after two years of employment in the city's building/code enforcement department, she was fired after reporting she was being treated less favorably than younger, non-disabled employees by male supervisors. Murray claims the actions constitute a violation of Florida whistleblower protection laws and caused her economic losses, court records stated.

Murray has demanded a jury trial and claimed damages exceeding $15,000, which is the minimum amount to file a lawsuit in the circuit court. A jury could award more, less or rule in favor of the defendant.

Murray's attorney, Marie Mattox, did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the lawsuit, Murray claims she faced mistreatment specifically at the hands of Building Department Director Mel Leonard and Inspector Tyson Scott.

Murray states that she suffers from lingering damage because of a previous chemotherapy treatment, which she claims "at least in part, (was) the basis of the hostile work environment she was subjected to," according to the lawsuit.

In examples provided in the lawsuit, she claims that during her employment, she was paid less than a newer employee, received write-ups for activities other employees did not, was criticized in front of customers and was accused of poor work. After reporting the situation to then-human resource manager Diane Floyd and City Manager Mario Gisbert, though, Murray saw no corrective actions.

"Specifically, nothing was done regarding (Murray's) formal complaints documenting the hostile work environment she was subjected to, as well as the complaints concerning the discrimination suffered by (Murray) due to her gender, age and disability," the lawsuit states. Murray "ultimately obtained a copy of her file from the city, however, her complaint documents were nowhere to be found."

Murray claims after meeting with Floyd and Gisbert, she continued to report what she considered improper activities. One of those activities, the lawsuit states, was Panama City Beach's practice of not collecting sales taxes from some business that allegedly "had some form of relationship" with other city employees. Murray claims because of her complaints, she was fired from her position in July.

Murray "maintains that the actions of all employees within (Panama City Beach) who affected her employment adversely did so in retaliation against her for her 'whistle blowing' activities."

Circuit Judge John Fishel will be presiding over the case. There have yet to be any hearings scheduled, court records indicated.

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(c)2018 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

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