DENVER - Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's old college buddy who was hired as an $85,000 "Special Assistant" is now suing the mayor and the city, saying he was wrongfully fired after falsely being accused of sexual harassment.
Hancock fired his longtime friend Wayne McDonald in May over what the mayor's spokeswoman called "serious allegations of misconduct."
A female Denver police officer on the mayor's security detail had filed a complaint accusing McDonald of sexual harassment.
But in an unlawful termination lawsuit filed in Denver federal court last week, McDonald accused Hancock, his spokeswoman Amber Miller and the female police officer of defamation that damaged his reputation, breach of contract and violation of his due process rights.
McDonald claims the officer lied and the mayor and city officials failed to give him a fair hearing or opportunity to defend himself.
In August, McDonald's attorney filed a notice of claim with the city seeking $264,084 for the remainder of his employment contract and $100,000 for the "reputational and emotional distress damages he has suffered." State law requires the filing of a notice of claim with a government agency before a lawsuit can be filed.
It's a bitter falling out for two men who've been close friends since attending Hastings College in Nebraska together.
McDonald said that the mayor hired him to serve as his "Special Assistant" for $85,000 a year -- "nearly double the amount paid by the former Mayor (John Hickenlooper) to his Special Assistant," according to his notice of claim.
McDonald said he would frequently encounter the female officer who was protecting the mayor and they would talk about "work place issues, sporting events and personal matters," the claim said.
The officer would sometimes call McDonald, who is married, "late in the evening while he was at his home to discuss personal matters," the claim said. Neither the lawsuit nor the claim offers details about the nature of these personal matters.
According to the lawsuit, McDonald was summoned in May to a meeting with Hancock’s Deputy Chief of Staff Stephanie O’Malley and City Attorney Doug Friednash. They told McDonald that the female police officer had filed a complaint alleging that McDonald sexually harassed her.
The officer had provided as evidence of the harassment recordings of phone calls that McDonald had with the woman on Nov. 3, 2011 -- recordings that she made "without McDonald's knowledge or consent," according to the lawsuit.
Friednash asked McDonald if he would cooperate in an investigation by the Mountain States Employers Council and McDonald agreed, the lawsuit said.
On May 21, O'Malley asked McDonald to meet with her and Friednash at Racine's Restaurant in Denver.
"When McDonald arrived at Racine's Restaurant, O’Malley and Friednash told McDonald that he could resign his job or he would be fired because (the female officer) alleged McDonald sexually harassed her," the lawsuit said.
"McDonald told O’Malley and Friednash that McDonald had done nothing wrong and asked for an investigation, hearing or other opportunity to defend against (the officer's) false accusation that McDonald sexually harassed (her) and to clear his name," the lawsuit said.
McDonald said Friednash then told him he was fired.
McDonald claims he was fired without an opportunity to defend his "good name, reputation, honor and integrity," the lawsuit said.
McDonald said his reputation took another hit on June 21 when Hancock spokeswoman Amber Miller told new reporters he had been fired for "serious allegations of misconduct."
At a news conference the next day, Hancock repeated that McDonald was "fired for serious misconduct," the lawsuit said.
"Personnel decisions are always difficult and when you have people that you care about involved, it's tougher," the mayor said at the news conference.
"Had Miller and Hancock made a reasonable effort to obtain the facts, they would have learned that (the female officer) placed dozens of telephone calls to McDonald’s personal cellphone after the falsely alleged sexual harassment allegedly occurred, with some telephone calls occurring before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m.," the lawsuit said.
"Had Miller and Hancock made a reasonable effort to obtain the facts, they would have realized that (the officer) lied because her conduct is completely inconsistent with that of a person who is a victim of workplace sexual harassment," the lawsuit said.
The city opposed McDonald's application for unemployment compensation benefits and the fired advisor appealed to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in September, the lawsuit said.
"During this unemployment compensation appeals hearing, O'Malley testified that McDonald was fired because he sexually harassed (the female officer). McDonald denied he sexually harassed (the officer) and explained the circumstances of his interactions with (the woman)," his lawsuit said.
In October, McDonald learned he'd won his unemployment compensation appeal, with the hearing officer stating that McDonald "is not at fault for this separation. The claimant and the officer had a close friendly relationship which was not romantic," the lawsuit said.
After he was fired, McDonald said Hancock repeatedly called him and his wife, sometimes leaving voicemail messages.
In July, Hancock sent a text message to McDonald, stating, "Hey man, I've been thinking about you and have called you several times."
Now the damaged relationship between the mayor and his former right-hand man could play out in a bitter court battle.