A former Palo Alto city planner has filed a complaint against the city, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing, according to a claim that the City Council discussed in a closed session this week.
The claim from Sarah Syed, who was involved in implementing the city's bicycle and pedestrian master plan, contends that her employment was terminated last year in violation of her rights and that she was retaliated against after she raised concerns about the promotion of Jessica Sullivan to transportation planning manager.
Sullivan, who as parking manager spearheaded the creation of the city's Residential Preferential Parking Program, has since left the city to accept a job with Google. She was promoted to the position of transportation planning manager in 2015.
Syed, who did not respond to questions about the claim, calls the city's hiring and promotion of Sullivan "negligent and reckless hiring" that "injured Ms. Syed in the course of these events."
"City hiring managers maliciously induced her to accept employment at the City under false pretenses," states the claim, which was filed in August 2016.
The council had spent nearly two hours behind closed doors discussing the claim. It did not take any reportable action, according to Mayor Greg Scharff.
City Attorney Molly Stump said the City is "not able to comment on a matter in litigation or where litigation is threatened."
"It would be premature to provide a response at this juncture," Stump said.
While the allegations in the claim are vague, it does call out Planning Director Hillary Gitelman and Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello for making "false representations" to her (numerous city officials, including senior planning managers and council members, have declined to discuss the specifics of the case). Syed alleges that she had discovered these false representations before Feb. 5, 2016, but did not discover their impacts until she was "wrongfully terminated with malice, corruption and fraud."
Syed, who was hired in April 2015, also claims that Mello wrongfully disclosed confidential and other disparaging information about Syed's employment and "injured her professional reputation." The claim states that she plans to file a complaint for violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Stump confirmed that Syed had indeed filed the complaint with the state agency.
According to Syed's personal webpage, sarahsyed.com, she has since co-founded the firm Sage Vista, which provides engineering, management and planning services.