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Newport Beach’s former finance director has filed a claim against the city, after having been fired last November, alleging city officials are targeting older employees.
Dan Matusiewicz filed a claim against the city alleging a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act on Apr. 30.
On Oct. 21 of last year, Matusiewicz was placed on administrative leave, and on Nov. 2, Matusiewicz was fired, after 28 years in his position.
When reached for comment, Matusiewicz stood by his claim and said he is being represented by Dennis Wagner of Wagner, Zemming, and Christensen.
Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at email@example.com.
In the claim he filed, Matusiewicz said that City Manager, Grace Leung, targeted older employees, “potentially with a goal in mind to reduce costs, avoid paying benefits, or churn employees with higher pension benefits for lower tiered pension benefits.”
Leung has denied Matusiewicz’ claims and said that his termination was done lawfully.
“If you look at the specific allegations that are being made, you can see that there is no factual basis for these allegations. Of the listed employees, only the claimant has been terminated. The entire management team that reports to me is over the age of 40 and I have personally hired two harbormasters, promoted a fire chief, and hired a finance director who are all over the age of 40. To say that I am biased against people based on age is simply not supported by the facts. The termination of the claimant was justified for a variety of legitimate business reasons and I stand behind my decision.”
In his claim, Matusiewicz wrote that Leung “became agitated and increasingly hostile toward him [in 2019] and started to obsess over finance staff members and their work and ages,” according to the 12-page claim document he filed with the City of Newport Beach.
On April 10 of last year, the independent auditing firm, Moss Adams, identified “purchasing as a high-risk area of concern, recommending in part that the City hire additional procurement staff to provide sufficient support and back-up,” according to Matusiewicz’ claim.
After this report came out, Matusiewicz alleges in his claim that Leung and the Deputy Assistant City Manager held private meetings with Moss Adams, in which the finance department staff was not included, and where the firm was “coerced to remove the recommendation” to hire more staff.
According to the claim, on June 10, Moss Adams was planning to further examine the finance department but they were replaced by Assistant City Manager, Carol Jacobs, who performed the audit.
In the final report created by Jacobs, Matusiewicz’ claim alleges that Leung added a revision which stated that “there is currently a lack of appropriate management and supervision of the warehouse and staff.”
In addition, Matusiewicz wrote in his claim that he was notified by Leung that his evaluation was going to happen three months earlier than normal. He was not provided the evaluation ahead of time, which was against customary practice.
Matusiewicz noted that the final score of his evaluation was much lower than his previous evaluations, his claim states.
He writes in his claim that in the evaluation, Leung wrote that Matusiewicz “recognized the underperformance of two other employees, one in the warehouse and the other a senior manager, but has not taken to the proactive steps to manage their performance.”
Matusiewicz denies in his claim any performance issues related to these employees.
He wrote in this claim that “Leung made it clear she wanted [him] to discipline and or terminate these employees, based upon age and tenure at the City” and “the City Manager and City Council ratifies and condones harassment, intimidation, and retaliation within the workplace to reduce costs and avoid paying benefits.”
Mayor Brad Avery said he had never witnessed discrimination in his time at City Hall, and showed his support for the City Manager.
“As City Manager, Ms. Leung has a duty to lead the organization and I think she has done an excellent job of ensuring that employees are treated fairly and that a culture of intolerance is not allowed to develop.”
Matusiewicz is seeking reimbursement for funds made to the Retiree Health Savings plan, as well as, damages for emotional stress, his wage loss, and “punitive damages as necessary to punish individuals who violated the rights of Matusiewicz with malice, fraud, and oppression,” according to his claim.