Deltona’s human resources director claims in a lawsuit that acting city manager John Peters III fired him after he told Peters he was opening an investigation into complaints about Peters making discriminatory and inappropriate comments.
But Peters said Wednesday that Richard Adams hasn’t been terminated. Lee Lopez, spokesperson for Deltona, confirmed via email that Adams hasn’t been fired “and is still receiving his salary.”
As of Thursday, Adams was still listed on the city’s website as the HR director.
Peters declined further comment on the lawsuit filed Monday afternoon on Adams’ behalf by the law firm Morgan & Morgan.
The lawsuit states Adams, who is seeking more than $30,000 in damages, was fired at the end of June, about two weeks after he’d told Peters about the pending investigation.
The lawsuit also states Adams’ termination was attributed to him “not properly responding to unemployment charges filed against the city” and “registering for and then failing to attend a conference in Chicago, Illinois.”
But according to the lawsuit, Adams “promptly filed proper responses immediately after receiving the (unemployment) claims” and “the conference was postponed and rescheduled to September.”
On July 1, Adams sent an email to Peters and commissioners addressing the reasons for what he called a “separation,” according to a copy of the email provided Wednesday afternoon to The News-Journal.
“I will not be signing what amounts to a ‘gag order,'” Adams said in the email, an apparent reference to the terms of the proposed agreement.
He also said he finds it “interesting” that former employees, including Jane Shang, the former city manager, and Adam Bengelsdorf, a former firefighter, received deals akin to a “golden parachute,” yet Adams said he was “not even offered a severance to ‘go away quietly.'”
“I want my reputation cleared and the only logical resolution to this matter is to have me reinstated immediately as HR Director and terminate John Peters,” Adams wrote at the conclusion of his email. “If you are not willing to do that, you are going to have to substantially up the ante before I am forced to take legal action.”
Adams, who was hired as the city’s human resources director in 2016, received a complaint about the work environment under Peters around the same time he informed the acting manager he would be investigated, according to the lawsuit.
The portion of that complaint included in Adams’ lawsuit states, in part, that “women in a position of power or management have either been let go, forced to resign or voluntarily left.” The name of the person who made that comment is not included in the lawsuit.
Adams, on March 8, wrote a formal complaint “of sexual harassment and discrimination against Peters” and sent it to Mayor Heidi Herzberg and the other members of the City Commission, according to the lawsuit.
Herzberg said Tuesday afternoon by phone that she had no comment.
The lawsuit states the city hired an investigator to look into Adams’ complaint, but the investigation was never completed nor were his retaliation complaints investigated.
Peters made an Adams’ subordinate the “HR liaison” between the acting city manager and human resources on March 9, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims Peters “made sexually harassing comments toward another employee … specifically … suggesting that he is a product of incest” in February.
Last December, “Peters also made discriminatory comments about minorities” during a meeting of directors, “suggesting that minorities do not have a lot to look forward to in life and do not take care of their homes which is why there is so much crime around rental buildings,” according to the lawsuit.
Adams also claims in the lawsuit that in July 2020 he received a complaint that on two separate occasions, Peters, who was then the director of public works for the city, “used offensive, sexually harassing language. Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.”
The News-Journal has requested documents related to the lawsuit. Only the last email Adams sent to Peters and city commissioners was provided.
During his most recent performance review on March 1, Adams “met or exceeded expectations in all areas,” according to the lawsuit. Marc-Antonie Cooper was serving as the deputy city manager, and wrote the performance review.
Cooper’s last day with Deltona was March 3 and he currently serves as the city manager of Forest Park, Georgia. In May, the city received a letter from Cooper’s attorney saying that Cooper had been discriminated against on the basis of “race, color and age” when the commission demoted him in November 2020. Mediation with Cooper is tentatively set for late September, according to Skip Fowler, city attorney.
Since taking the city’s helm in December 2020 following Cooper’s demotion, Peters has received two largely positive reviews from the City Commission and two bumps in pay for receiving satisfactory reviews, as guaranteed by his contract.
Residents have also spoken in favor of Peters and the job he’s been doing so far.