Fired Iowa Chief Sues for Age and Sex Discrimination

Former Davenport fire chief Lynn Washburn has filed suit against the city and city manager Corrin Spiegel over her termination in 2017. The state court suit alleges age discrimination, sex discrimination, retaliation, invasion of privacy, blacklisting in violation of Iowa Code Chapter 730, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Chief Washburn claims that when Spiegel was hired in 2015, she embarked on a campaign of removing older department heads, replacing them with people in their 30s. She also claims Spiegel systematically undermined and marginalized her in the department, providing a long list of examples.

Among the allegations:

  • Spiegel subjected Plaintiff to frequent harassment and bullying.
  • The harassment and bullying that Plaintiff was subjected to included:
    • ignoring her;
    • giving her the silent treatment;
    • making critical remarks about Plaintiff to Plaintiff’s subordinates;
    • belittling or degrading Plaintiff in front of peers and elected officials;
    • assigning job duties that were part of Plaintiff’s ordinary duties to others;
    • circumventing Plaintiff by directing Plaintiff’s subordinates; and
    • making false accusations about Plaintiff.
  • In the year before Plaintiff’s termination, two coworkers, the Public Works Director and the Information Technology Director, both in their 50s, were removed from their positions by Spiegel.
  • Spiegel used similar tactics, including bullying and undermining them in front of their subordinates, to remove them from office.
  • Both directors were replaced by people in their 30s.
  • After Plaintiff’s termination, the Department Director of Human Resources, a 40-year-old female, had her role restructured so that she was subordinate to a younger male with no Human Resource education or experience.
  • Around the same time the Communications Director, a 59-year-old female who held the position for twenty years was demoted and had her salary reduced. This Director’s subordinate was reassigned to report directly to Spiegel’s assistant.
  • None of the demoted or discharged individuals had received any previous disciplinary action.

Chief Washburn is seeking back pay, treble damages, and attorney’s fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint:  Washburn v Davenport



About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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