Palo Alto settles over discrimination complaint | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto settles over discrimination complaint

City agreed to pay Sarah Syed $47,497, rehire her for five days

The city of Palo Alto has settled a claim from a former transportation planner who alleged that she was the victim of sex discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, the city has agreed to a $47,495 settlement with Sarah Syed, who was fired last year after briefly leading the city's effort to implement its bicycle and pedestrian master plan. In a claim filed against the city in August, Syed alleged that hiring managers "maliciously induced her to accept employment at the City under false pretenses" and then later terminated her "with malice, corruption and fraud."

The claim also alleged that her supervisors made false representations to her before she accepted her job and that Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello (who was hired after Syed began her tenure) wrongfully disclosed confidential information about her employment and "injured her professional reputation."

The City Council met in a closed session in October to discuss Syed's complaint. Though the council didn't take any reportable action, it appears to have directed its attorneys to settle. The settlement agreement states that the parties "wish to save the time and expense of pursuing the procedures applicable to any and all claims, charges, complaints, arbitration, or litigation" that might arise from any occurrence involving Syed's employment.

As part of the settlement, which was signed by attorneys for parties on Nov. 1, the city has agreed to give Syed a severance payment of $47,495. In addition, Palo Alto agreed to rehire her for one week, between Nov. 3 and Nov. 9. During that time, she was directed to work off-site and to produce written reports on issues relevant to Palo Alto, including research or policies and programs adopted by other cities, according to the settlement.

The city also has agreed to regard her official employment period as April 7, 2015, to Nov. 9, 2017, despite her termination in February 2016 and the fact that she hadn’t worked in the city until the five-day stretch in November. The period between Feb. 6, 2016, and Nov. 2, 2017, will now be treated as "approved unpaid leave of absence," and Syed's personnel file will reflect this designation, according to the settlement.

As part of the settlement, Syed agreed that she will not file any grievance, claim or cause of action of any kind relating to her employment with the city. Syed also agreed under the settlement not to "apply for any permanent, hourly, consulting or any other position with the City, unless invited to do so by the City."


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25 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 26, 2017 at 3:43 pm

What exactly was she whistleblowing about? The previous article said she had a grievance with Jessica Sullivan, but doesn't say what it was. Doesn't the term "whistleblower" imply that you are publicizing some wrongdoing? As a member of the public, I still don't know what happened.

26 people like this
Posted by Cover up?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2017 at 6:26 pm

What was Syed blowing the whistle about? She worked in the Transportation Dept that is involved in the bicycle boulevard debacle. Palo Alto residents should be told the truth about the “fraud and corruption” that is referred to in the lawsuit and this article.

24 people like this
Posted by City Insider
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2017 at 7:29 am

Scuttlebutt in City Hall is that there is also a possible pending lawsuit against the City for the Deputy Fire Chief's retaliation for a complaint made against the Fire Department. This, of course, is on top of the Deputy Fire Chief's lawsuit against the city. Palo Alto taxpayers can thus expect to pay much more for City Hall shenanigans.

7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2017 at 10:43 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I too would like more details on the "fraud and corruption" re the costly, dangerous and absurd bike boulevard program.

Like this comment
Posted by Bicyclist
a resident of University South
on Dec 27, 2017 at 4:32 pm

As a community member and bicyclist, I can say that Sarah was an very valued member of the Transportation Division and did work that was greatly admired and appreciated by many in the bicycling community. We, as outsiders, were shocked when Sarah suddenly disappeared as a staff member. It certainly seemed that she had been given a bum deal. I hope that this settlement works for all parties, and that Sarah has landed safely in another position.

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