Court records show Marco Island, former police records clerk close to settlement
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Recent court filings show the city of Marco Island is close to settling the discrimination lawsuit being brought forth by its former police records clerk.
The city's attorneys and legal representatives for Heather Comparini filed a joint notice of settlement Friday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, indicating a settlement is expected within 10 days.
If a settlement is reached, it will require final approval by the City Council, which meets next on Dec. 2.
Comparini filed suit against the city in September, accusing the police department and former Police Chief Al Schettino of discrimination and retaliation based on her gender.
Schettino had scapegoated Comparini as the source of a leak in February 2018 regarding the battery complaint made against then-City Manager Lee Niblock, court records indicate.
Schettino claimed to have received a call from City Attorney Alan Gabriel in which Comparini was identified as the source of a text message containing information about Niblock that eventually found its way to Councilor Larry Honig.
He also wrote that assertion in notes he provided to the city’s labor attorney, Milton Collins, as he requested a termination letter be drafted.
While Comparini remained employed, Comparini said Schettino retaliated against her by having other employees cross-train for her position and deactivating her keycard.
Comparini said she suffered physical and mental ailments as a result of his treatment.
Despite coming close to firing Comparini, an investigation, which began a few months after Schettino’s departure, showed no evidence was ever presented that showed Comparini leaked the information. Her only link was that she was among a group of at least 20 people that knew of the information that was contained in the document, the complaint stated.
Gabriel and Honig refuted naming Comparini as the leak or the source of the text message during interviews given as part of the formal investigation. Schettino declined to be interviewed at the advice of his legal counsel.
Three other police officers were made aware that those claims were the basis for the investigation but had no information that could confirm or refute the allegations.
The city’s investigation did not exonerate Comparini completely. The "not sustained" findings mean the city could not confirm or refute the allegations. Evidence that Comparini presented in her defense was found to not reach the level to exonerate her.
After being unable to reach an initial settlement, Comparini quit this month and amended her legal complaint to include the infliction of emotional distress, defamation, negligent retention of Schettino and public records violations.
"I have had the threat of my termination hanging over my head, depending on the results of the ongoing 'leak' investigation," Comparini wrote in her letter of resignation. "Most important, this allegation and continued investigation have very publicly called my character, honesty and integrity into question. Those values are ones that I am not willing to compromise under any circumstances."
Comparini had been seeking a settlement in the range of $40,000 and for the city to clear her name. The city's counteroffer of $10,000 was rejected.
The public records violations stem from the city’s previous responses to records requests for the investigative file of the leak investigation.
City staff had previously indicated to attorney Neil Snyder and the Naples Daily News the investigation was active at various stages since last year.
The investigation, completed by Capt. Dave Baer, notes he was tasked with closing out an investigation a few months ago at the request of City Manager Mike McNees.
A file Schettino kept showed little to no activity from February 2018 up until Baer started his formal investigation.
It is not legally permissible to cite an exemption, such as active investigation or the presence of a document, when that is not true.
Code Enforcement assistant James Deatherage also quit on the same day as Comparini in a show of solidarity.
He wrote he could not work "for an institution that has allowed employees to be openly treated in this fashion without any effort to rectify the situation."