Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Did Marilyn Want Millions From The Mayor?

By - Jun 11th, 2001 10:19 am
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Marilyn Figueroa never wanted money from the mayor. That’s the story she and her friends told Milwaukee Magazine, in the only interview Figueroa has ever granted the press. In fact, all three of Figueroa’s lawyers demanded money, with one attorney asking for a $5 million settlement from John Norquist.

This extravagant demand was contained in a “Notice of Claim” sent to Norquist’s attorney Anne Shindell by Atty. John Fuchs on April 5, 2000. The document is a laundry list of charges against Norquist, including (1) Sexual harassment, racial discrimination and denial of equal protection; (2) Violations of Wisconsin Fair Employment Law; (3) Constructive discharge — forcing Figueroa to leave employment by creating intolerable conditions; (4) Breach of contract; (5) Emotional distress; (6) Defamation; and (7) Invasion of Privacy. For that, Fuchs wanted $5 million from Norquist, or an average of $625,000 per charge.

Figueroa says she simply wanted to go to court and tell her story to a judge and jury. She could have charged Norquist with felonious sexual assault, which she claims the mayor committed more than once, and, if proven, could land him in jail. She could have immediately filed sexual harassment charges. Instead, Figueroa waited until nine months after being terminated by the city before she filed a claim with any governmental body.

During this period, Figueroa was represented by three different lawyers and went through protracted negotiations with Shindell that were all about money.

“We had a demand for money from the very beginning,” Shindell claims, beginning with Figueroa’s first lawyer, state Rep. Pedro Colon (D-Milwaukee). “When I tried to discuss the legal aspects of the case,” Shindell says, “Colon said ‘I don’t care. The bottom line is we want money.’ ” Shindell says Colon asked for $350,000 to $500,000.

“I’m not stupid,” Shindell continues. “I know the difference between extortion and a legal case.”

Colon says he will be suing Shindell for defamation. “They’ve tried to tell this story all over town and nobody believes them,” Colon says.

Colon has retained Atty. Mark Thomson to represent him. Interestingly, Thomson confirms that money was discussed. He says Shindell offered Figueroa reinstatement in a city job at a salary of $75,000 for four years — until Norquist’s current term of office expires. This was actually comparable to the job the city had offered Figueroa a year earlier, paying $71,161, when she was still working for Norquist. The difference, if any, was this job would be guaranteed for four years.

Thomson says Colon simply converted that to a $350,000 settlement, with the argument that Figueroa did not want to work for an employer who discriminated against her.

Both sides, in short, agree a pay-off of at least $350,000 was discussed. Any such agreement would have come with a gag order, meaning neither side could publicly discuss it. So much for Figueroa’s day in court.

Next up to bat was Fuchs, who increased the price by a cool $4.65 million. Fuchs says this was simply an early strategy. “Call it strategy, call it politics, call it sending a message to the other side, that maybe this will go to the Common Council and they will wonder whether the city would have to pay this kind of money,” Fuchs says.

Fuchs says he has been reluctant to talk about the case because of attorney-client privilege, but since Figueroa and Shindell have disclosed all the details of the negotiations, he feels an obligation to clarify the record. Fuchs says Figueroa was always interested in money but also wanted to publicly shame Norquist. “One week it was ‘I want money.’ Then the next week it was ‘I’m going to turn down the money, so I can have my story told.’ ”

The dilemma for Figueroa is that any monetary settlement would include a non-disclosure clause. So which did Figueroa choose? According to Shindell, “There was a point where Fuchs said ‘all she [Figueroa] wants is money. The details are not relevant.’ ”

In an April 13 letter, Fuchs demanded $225,000. Shindell, as Figueroa has disclosed, was only offering $125,000 to $150,000.

One press account suggested Figueroa terminated Fuchs because she wanted more money. Fuchs doesn’t deny this. “If a client wants a certain amount of money and the lawyer say it’s not in the cards, then you go elsewhere,” Fuchs says.

Figueroa did just that. She next went to Madison to find an attorney, Victor Arellano of Lawton & Cates. An “offer of settlement” sent to Shindell by Arellano on November 22, 2000, warned that “we plan to file our claim on Monday, November 27, 2000, with the State of Wisconsin Equal Rights Division…”

“As you are aware, no news coverage has taken place with respect to this matter,” Arellano wrote. “I have instructed my client to remain silent on these issues in order to avoid any unnecessary publicity. However, once this case is filed with the ERD at the state level, all of the details will become public as a matter of law. I have proposed to Ms. Figueroa that we attempt to put this painful matter to rest for the amount of $275,000 in exchange for a confidential release of all claims.”

But Arellano didn’t file the claim on November 27. Instead, he and Figueroa decided to wait, after Shindell requested more time to consider a cash settlement. Once again, money was more important to Figueroa than her day in court.

Granted, most lawyers would prefer an out-of-court settlement for cash because that approach is less risky and takes less work. But none of the four lawyers involved in this case seemed to think it had much chance if it was litigated.

Colon says he never filed a case of sexual harassment or racial discrimination, and never wrote a legal complaint of any kind. Fuch’s notice of claim argued Figueroa had grounds for both a state and federal action, but nothing was ever filed. Indeed, according to Figueroa, Fuchs told her she didn’t have much of a case. Arellano’s November 27th letter to Shindell warned that Figueroa would pursue a federal civil rights case against Norquist, but no filing has ever been made. Arellano did eventually file a state case, but only after delaying to hold out for a cash settlement, and only after Norquist himself went to the press with the story.

The other lawyer involved, Shindell, has handled numerous sexual harassment cases representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and thought it was such a weak case that she went along with her client John Norquist’s decision not to pay a settlement and fight it out legally.

That leaves Figueroa, who says she preferred legal action but consistently went along with a strategy that pursued cash instead. And, as Shindell has pointed out, Figueroa chose not to file a lawsuit, which can result in penalties for a plaintiff who makes false charges. Instead, she went to the state ERD, where she cannot be penalized. Good strategy, no doubt, but not the action of someone who wants to go before a judge and jury.

Atty. Fuchs’ demand for $5 million

Figueroa v. City of Milwaukee, et al.

Notice of Circumstances and Notice of Claim
From:Fuchs Snow DeStefanis, S.C.
(Original Attorneys for Marilyn Figueroa)
To:Mayor John O. Norquist
To:City of Milwaukee; c/o Mr. Ronald D. Leonhardt, City Clerk

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the claimant, Marilyn Figueroa, claims against Mayor John O. Norquist in his individual and office capacities, and in addition, claims against the City of Milwaukee, and provides the following information as to the circumstances upon which her claims are based.

 

The claimant resides at 3151 S. Pine Avenue, in the City of Milwaukee.

Claimant is represented by the law firm of Fuchs Snow DeStefanis, S.C., by Attorney John F. Fuchs. It is requested that all notices of any scheduling or action on this claim be served upon the claimant, in care of her legal counsel, at 620 N. Mayfair Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226-4253.

This Notice of Circumstances and Notice of Claim is provided under Chapter 893 of the Wisconsin Statutes to the extent applicable to state tort claims. Circumstances of the claims, and the interrelationship between the claimant’s state tort claims render joinder with various federal causes of action appropriate. Claimant reserves all rights to independently pursue federal claims as set forth herein, and nothing in this notice or claim is intended or should be construed as a waiver of the right to independently pursue such claims without regard to the procedural and substantive limitations imposed by the laws of the State of Wisconsin

CIRCUMSTANCES

Marilyn Figueroa is a female of Hispanic heritage and a minority, and as such, a member of a protected class. Ms. Figueroa was employed by the City of Milwaukee, specifically by Mayor John O. Norquist, as a member of his staff, commencing in April of 1999. She was promised a that time that her duties were functions relating to the Community Block Grant office, Housing Authority, Anti-Crime and Police Department, and Police Committee. Her responsibilities over the course of her employment related primarily to working with minority groups within the City of Milwaukee.

Between the years 1991 and 1999, claimant began to complain of a discriminatory work environment, complaining to various chiefs of staff of Mayor John O. Norquist that there existed a “two-tier system” and a “Hispanic box.” These complaints continued throughout her employment. During the tenure of one Chief of Staff, the placement of minorities in community liaison-type visible positions, without significant participation in policy direction, was acknowledged as probable and as warranting investigation and possible redress. No action was taken.

In August of 1994, the claimant was attacked near her home, which was one block away from a house maintained in the city by Mayor John O. Norquist. Information regarding the attack was related to the Milwaukee Police Department, including an officer who worked at the Mayor’s office, who in turn related the information to the Mayor. Therefore Mayor John O. Norquist personally brought flowers to the claimant’s office, engaged in such activities such as advising her “he would take care of her,” and that “he and the cops were pulling over every black male in the neighborhood,” and coming to her home uninvited. Mayor John O. Norquist thereafter commenced activity within the workplace as well as outside the City Hall offices, including making inquiries regarding the claimant’s marital status, and her divorce and making further inquiries as to the abusive activity on the part of the claimant ex-husband. Mayor John O. Norquist thereafter engaged in practices such as releasing his police department drivers from duty, advising that “Marilyn will drive me home.” The permission of the claimant was never sought. The Mayor also commenced a practice of stopping at the home of the claimant uninvited. The claimant was offended by the racially discriminatory nature of the actions of “pulling over every black male in the neighborhood” offensive and caused her to as the Mayor and Chief Arreola to stop the search for her attacker.

By early 1995, the Mayor’s advances became a source of pressure in the workplace, and claimant concluded that she must acquiesce to sexual relations with the Mayor or face the risk of losing her job. A sexual relationship commenced under coercion and duress and continued due to the ability of Mayor John O. Norquist to assert his rank and control over the claimant. Claimant did, in fact, express frustration to the Mayor over the appropriateness of the conduct. Among various incidents, one example was when claimant declined an invitation to join the Mayor in Chicago. At the request of the Mayor, Chief of Police Arthur Jones called the sister of the claimant inquiring as to her whereabouts when she failed to keep the meeting in Chicago. Lt. Linda Velasco was also asked to look for the claimant when she failed to appear in Chicago.

Throughout claimant’s employment, claimant complained that significant policy assignments were provided based upon a two-tier system, and continued to note that the administration was structured such as to created a Hispanic and other minority “box.” Specifically, assignments of responsibility and promotions went to white individuals including, but not limited to Brenda Wood, Steve Jacquart, Michael Dawson, Jason Jelgerson, and Jim Rowen, but not individuals such as Mile Miller, Sherri Street, Orson Porter, Maria Rodriguez, Rolen Perry, Lorenzo Henderson, and Eloisa Gomez, all minorities, or to the claimant, also a minority.

In 1997 and 1999< Mayor John O. Norquist became more aggressive I pursuing a sexual relationship. The claimant was called by the Mayor three to four times on some evenings. The Mayor requested that the claimant include him in functions at her home when family was over for the holidays or Sunday dinners stating “Don’t all your sisters have husbands and boyfriends that come with them to your house?” Claimant declined. On another occasion, at an Hispanic elections fundraiser, the Mayor hugged and kissed the claimant in the presence of the Mayor’s wife and claimant’s sister and friends, causing extreme embarrassment to the claimant. Prior to Christmas of 1998, claimant terminated the relationship, at which point the Mayor became angry with the claimant.

Also in 198, while still complaining about discrimination on a racial basis, and having avoided or reduce sexual contact with Mayor John O. Norquist, claimant finished work on the Pedro Colon campaign. After Colon was elected to office, Mayor John O. Norquist specifically stated to claimant, “Now do I have you back?”

In March of 1999, claimant sought a position vacated by Michael Dawson, which was given to Brenda Wood. After December of 1998, subsequent to claimant’s assertion that the relationship had to stop, the Mayor had advised claimant through his Chief of Staff, Jim Rowen, that she could not interview for the job held by Michael Dawson. Based upon prior misrepresentations as to her possible eligibility for the position, the claimant stated that she was leaving the Mayor’s staff. Mayor John O. Norquist went to claimant’s house, talked to her directly, acknowledged that her would remover her from the “Hispanic-Box,” promising her specifically a reclassification. Based upon the specific acknowledgements and representations of Mayor John O. Norquist, claimant continued as a member of the Mayor’s staff. But no reclassifications occurred, nor was claimant given any jobs reflecting greater responsibility or involvement in policy. The classification promised in exchange for continued employment was a reclassification to Job Classification 11. Rowen later told claimant that his “one regret” was that he had not given been able to give claimant the reclassification she desired, but that it was out of his hands,” the decision came from above.” Claimant realized she was the subject of retaliation.

Jason Helgerson then left the Mayor’s staff. Ruth Wyttenback suggested to claimant that she should apply for the position. Claimant inquired of Jim Rowen, one time Chief of Staff, about the position. The Mayor came to claimant’s home and told her that Julie Penman and Michael Dawson did not want her to get the position and that she should not apply for it. The Mayor told her that they were all racists. The person who eventually took Jason Helgerson’s position was Trisha Gerhaty, a white female, and within two weeks thereafter she was given a reclassification from a level seven to a level nine. Claimant had worked nine years with no reclassifications of promotions.

In late 1999, Bill Christofferson, and agent of the City and the Mayor, asked claimant to work on the Mayor’s campaign, and that after the election, they would promote her to another position. Claimant expressed to him that she no longer trusted them “because of all the broken promises that they have made, and that I still do not have the reclassification promised to me.” During this time, the Mayor told claimant “I fell bad about what has happened to you and I know that I have not done right by you.”

Chief Arthur Jones called claimant at home on a weekend to discuss racist attitudes. Claimant believed the Mayor was on another line, because the following week he came into her office, closed the door and said “I promise you I am going to take care of this. I am going to make some changes. It won’t directly affect you, but it should make things better for you.” Chief Jones took claimant to lunch soon after that, and after dropping her off, grabbed her arms and stated “Marilyn, hang in there, but remember one thing?if you decide to do anything, if things get worse, I want you to call me. No matter what. You only talk to me.”

Claimant called one Florence Dukes, the sexual harassment office for the City’ Department of Employee Relations. Claimant asked in confidentiality for an explanation as to the process for filing an EEOC claim. Dukes indicated that she would talk to her supervisor, Jeff Hansen, and get back to claimant. The following day, Michael Soika, Chief of Staff, announced at a staff meeting that claimant had filed an EEOC claim, which was untrue. A week later, Florence Dukes provided claimant a packet of materials relative to filing an EEOC claim.

By January 4, 2000, claimant’s emotional, mental and psychological state had deteriorated to a point where continuing to work was not possible and she left employment. Claimant nonetheless accepted calls from representatives of the Mayor’s office, including personal attorney, and current and prior Chief of Staff. Claimant was told that if she returned, and accepted reemployment, she would be given a promotion and greater responsibilities, specifically a position now held by Jim Rowen. Claimant did not believe the offer to be genuine, and specifically concluded no offer was in fact being made to effectuate her return to work, in a promoted or any other capacity, as she was specifically told that the effectuation of that position would be “after the election.” The election in question was the mayoral election of April 2000. Thus claimant specifically alleges that the offer was a sham offer. Claimant’s mental, emotional, and psychological state at such time due tot the discrimination, harassment and breach of promises of assignment, promotion, reclassification, and the pressure and use of the position of Mayor to effectuate a sexual relationship has rendered her incapable of working. Persons calling claimant at this point in time include Bill Christoferson from the mayoral campaign, Michael Soika, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, and attorney Anne Shindell, attorney for the Mayor.

Claimant has been unemployed, without adequate income to support herself and children, is increasingly incurring debt, and has suffered severe damages of both emotional and psychological nature.

After the expressed inability of the claimant to return to work, and the alleged offer of more significant employment “after the election,” Mayor John O. Norquist, through his Chief of Staff, and the City of Milwaukee, orchestrated a termination of the claimant. Specifically, on January 14, 2000, Michael Soika issued a warning letter that she was absent for work, alleging in the letter, despite his being in contact with her, that he was considering her messages that she was still able to work to be a request for family medical leave. Until date of January 21, 2000 claimant procured a letter from a physician which may or may not be acknowledged as received from the City documenting her inability to work from a medical standpoint to work. Such a letter was ultimately delivered to Mayor John O. Norquist care of his personal attorney, Anne Shindell.

On February 2, 2000, Chief of Staff Michael Soika wrote on behalf of the Mayor indicating that claimant had been absent for 28 days, without providing medical verification and stating that the City had no alternative but to process a voluntary quit. On February 7, 2000, Michael Soika processed a resignation form as to claimant, dated February 7, 2000, not signed by claimant, and which resignation was to take effect January 21,2000, 16 day prior to generation of the resignation, 11 days prior to the February 2, 2000 letter indicating the City would process a voluntary quit, and exactly the same date as the letter from claimant’s physician documenting her inability to work. No explanation is contained in the resignation document as to the effective date predating its drafting, predating the February 2, 2000 letter, and coincidentally being effective the same date that a medical verification was generated.

Claimant attempted resolution of her claims through retention of legal counsel, Attorney Pedro Colon, was in turn threatened with criminal prosecution based upon bogus allegations he was attempting to extort Mayor John O. Norquist. Thereafter, claimant retained her current legal counsel. After some preliminary discussion failed to result in any lengthy resolution of claimant’s employment status, claimant became the subject of great media attention, the circumstances of the relationship between Mayor John O. Norquist and claimant being related to the media. Base upon representations of members of the media, disclosure was due to information released by the Office of Mayor John O. Norquist. As a result, claimant has sustained an invasion of her privacy. Such disclosures included both true and knowingly false information of a defamatory nature such as that claimant was pregnant. She is not.

The course and pattern of conduct occurring over claimant’s employment, particularly 1995 through 2000, constituted sexual harassment and race discrimination. Specifically, claimant was offered, as summarized in this Notice of Circumstances, but which circumstances are specifically not limited by enumeration herein, advancement, promotion, alternate assignments, reclassification, and greater responsibility. Such offers were coupled with coercive conduct and retaliation and threats within the workplace to effectuate claimant’s continuation in employment despite repeated failures to provide such advancement, promotion, greater assignment, or reclassifications. The false promises were specifically designed to keep claimant employed, available for continued sexual activity, but silence her complaints about the two-tier racially discriminatory employment practices if the office of the Mayor.

CLAIMS

(Editor’s note: this section is abbreviated and does not include the legal discussion and citation of case under each claim.)
1.Sexual Harassment, racial discrimination and denial of equal protection under Title 42 U.S.C 1983 of the United States Code.

2.Racial discrimination and sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title 42 U.S.C. §2000 et.seq.

3.Violation of Wisconsin Fair Employment Law Sections 111.31 to 111.395

4.Constructive Discharge

5.Breach of Contract

6.Emotional Distress

7. Defamation

8. Invasion of Privacy

JOINT LIABILITY

Claimant claims against the City of Milwaukee for the conduct of Mayor John O. Norquist in that the Mayor’s actions are actionable against the Mayor as an individual when beyond the scope of his employment, but actionable against the Mayor to the extent done in his official capacity and as an agent of the City of Milwaukee.

DAMAGES

Claimant claims against Mayor John O. Norquist and the City of Milwaukee jointly and severally the sum of $5,000,000 (Five Million Dollars).

Fuchs Snow DeSteffanis, S.C.

Atty. Arellano’s demand for $275,000

November 22, 2000
From: Victor A. Arellano – Lawton & Cates, S.C.
(Representing Marilyn Figueroa)
To: Anne B. Shindell – Shindell Law Firm, LLC
(Representing Mayor Norquist)

I have completed my initial investigation of the above matter and consistent with my previous promise to you, I am hereby providing you with the advanced notice that I plan to proceed with the filing of our initial administrative complaint no later than Monday, November 27, 2000.

Subsequently, Ms. Figueroa will proceed with her civil rights claim against your client, City of Milwaukee Mayor, John O. Norquist, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, as well as against the City of Milwaukee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §2000, et seq.

Nature of Ms. Figueroa’ Claims

The would-be complainant /plaintiff claims that she began her employment with the City of Milwaukee on about April 29, 1991. All of the material times hereto she reported to the various Chiefs of Staff who then reported to the Mayor for the City of Milwaukee., John O. Norquist. Ms. Figueroa was directed and supervised by Mr. James Rowen, Chief of Staff throughout the majority of her employment with the city of Milwaukee. She was entitled to merit pay increases as well as transfer to other positions within the employment setting. The complainant/plaintiff was terminated by the then-Chief of Staff, Michael Soika, on or about February 7, 2000, while she was on medical leave due to the emotional stress imposed upon her by and illicit relationship with the Mayor of the City of Milwaukee, John O. Norquist.

Ms. Figueroa states that this relationship was initiated and vigorously pursued by Mr. Norquist both during normal work hours, as well as during after-hours work-related activities when Ms. Figueroa was present.

She states that the relationship began with strong sexual overtures on the part of Mr. Norquist while at work and eventually culminated into intimate relations at his place of residence while his wife was not present, as well as at Ms. Figueroa’s place of residence when he dropped by to discuss “work related” issues.

Ms. Figueroa resisted and on more than one or more occasions attempted to end the relationship with Mr. Norquist. However, she was repeatedly forced and coerced to continue said unwarranted and unsolicited relationship in order to protect her employment and the community programs/projects for which she was responsible (i.e. block grants, etc.) as Mr. Norquist would threaten to affect negatively the same as part his displeasure for her refusal to heed his physical and emotional desires.

Ms. Figueroa will testify in due course that Mr. Norquist used his position to achieve a sexual and intimate advantage on Ms. Figueroa. Specifically, the testimony of my client will demonstrate that Mr. Norquist predicated this sexual harassment as a condition of continued employment as well as to conditions of a job benefit or the absence of a job detriment. See Nichols v. Frank, 42 F.3d 503 (9th Cir. 1994); Kariban v. Columbia University, 14 F.3d 773 (2nd Cir. 1994).

As you are perhaps are aware, Ms. Figueroa does not have to show that Mr. Norquist made explicit threats (although she claims he did) of conditioning employment benefits upon receipt of sexual favors. See Ridge v. IICA Health Services of Kansas, Inc., 64 EPD 43, 071 (D. Kan. 1992). However, in the instant case Ms. Figueroa will establish that due to her strong desire to stop the illicit and “secret” relationship her opportunities for transfer, promotion and other benefits were affected.

Similarly, Ms. Figueroa has a potential case pursuant to both §§ 1981 and 1983 on the basis of race and retaliation. The record will reflect that she strongly objected to the discriminatory environment that existed within the workplace and that she was retaliated against with respect to promotion, transfer and other benefits. As you know, opposing race discrimination constitutes protected activity both under Title VII (42 U.S.C. §2000) as well as under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Ms. Figueroa will testify that she was denied certain job opportunities because of her race (Hispanic) as well as because Mr. Norquist made every attempt to keep her “close” and under his “control.” These actions are on the part of the City as well on the part of Mr. Norquist clearly fall under 42 U.S.C. §§§2000, 1981, and 1983.

We have carefully reviewed the exemption provision you believe excluded Ms. Figueroa from Title VII coverage. We have also analyzed her job duties reporting and supervising structure and we believe that she would clearly prevail in a motion for summary judgment in federal court. See Leaving v. City of Chicago, 1988 WL 20046 (N.D., Ill).

However, assuming the would-be defendants prevail, pursuant to the exemption provision, §111 Wis. Stats. Clearly protects Ms. Figueroa. To that end we have planned following approach to the case.

Once we have requested a Right to Sue letter from FEOC agency we plan to file within the required 90 days pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §2000, et. Seq. Secondly, we plan to file our claim Monday, November 27, 2000 with the State of Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (unlike 42 U.S.C. §2000, Section 111.32(5) defines “employee” as anyone who is not an individual employed by his/her parents, spouse, or child). Obviously, independent from Title VII claims, Ms. Figueroa plans to pursue her other constitutional claims cited herein.

As you are aware, no news coverage has taken place with respect to this matter. I have instructed my client to remain silent on these issues in order to avoid any unnecessary publicity. However, once this case is filed with the ERD at the state level, all of the details will become public as a matter of law. I have proposed to Ms. Figueroa that we attempt to put this painful matter to rest for the amount of $275,000 in exchange for a confidential release of all claims. Please notify my office at your earliest convenience with a response from your client. I will not disclose this matter to the City Attorney as I believe he will get a copy directly from the ERD investigator. Obviously, you are free to discuss the aforementioned matter with the City if you so desire.

Very Truly Yours,
Lawton & Cates, S.C.
Victor M. Arellano

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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