A civil lawsuit involving the Independence Chamber of Commerce and one of its employees is scheduled to go to trial in March.
Lois McDonald, the chamber's vice president for community development and perhaps the biggest driving force the group's annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival, is suing the chamber for age discrimination, alleging that she received a $30,000 pay cut while no other female employee had a wage reduction and other female employees received some perks or work opportunities not afforded to her.
McDonald, 65, had been the second-oldest member of the Chamber of Commerce staff, behind President/CEO Hap Graff, who announced his retirement in mid-November. After a court conference on Dec. 18, the case has been scheduled for a jury trial beginning March 4, with a pre-trial conference Feb. 14, according to court records. McDonald who has worked with the chamber for about five years, filed the suit in late August.
Business owner Tom Waters, who had been chairperson of the chamber board and is serving as interim chamber president with Graff's retirement, declined to discuss the lawsuit since it is ongoing but said McDonald has been “highly professional” while continuing to work with the chamber since it was filed.
Waters said that from his observations, “The staff is a tight-knit group that works very well. I would call the morale in the office good to great.
“We're looking forward to getting past this situation as soon as we possibly can,” he said.
In the lawsuit, McDonald claims that in November 2016 Graff reduced her salary from $80,000 to $50,000, without reducing any other woman's salary, and that same day a 21-year-old woman was hired full-time at the chamber. The next month, another female employee was promoted.
A younger female salaried employee was allowed to work from home, bring her pet to the office, go home to tend to the pet and work less hours while still receiving a pay increase, while another employee in her 60s was forced to leave, the lawsuit claims.
In addition, McDonald claims Graff made many age-related comments, such as “You work so hard, and I'm concerned about your health,” and coordinated activities that introduced employees at gatherings by chronological age. McDonald said she also was not offered similar career development opportunities as two younger employees.
In the lawsuit, McDonald seeks damages of at least $25,000. McDonald's attorney, Lynne Bratcher, could not be reached for comment after several attempts.
Waters lauded McDonald's work in charge of the chamber's signature event, Santa-Cali-Gon, which had been the major reason she was hired.
“Lois' main project is a very important project, not only to the chamber but to the city as a whole,” Waters said. “She holds it in high regard as much, if not more, than anybody.
“She's worked hard to improve every aspect of the festival.”
Of late, Waters said, the chamber has enjoyed great collaboration and communication with the city, including efforts with the Independence School District and the planned Farmers Market.
“The momentum of the chamber is in a really good place; we've grown in membership, reduced the debt,” Waters said. “It would be regrettable if this situation damages that momentum.”