LOCKPORT – Melissa I. Junke, the former City of Lockport youth and recreation director, filed papers in State Supreme Court this week that prominently featured sexual harassment charges against former Mayor Michael W. Tucker as a reason for a judge to revive her human rights complaint against the city.
The city’s response to that complaint said that Junke demanded Tucker’s resignation as the price for not going public with sexual harassment allegations against him. Tucker resigned Feb. 21, 2014, the week after a meeting on the topic between Junke’s then-lawyer, George V.C. Muscato, and the city’s attorney, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano.
“I have no comment on any of that garbage,” Tucker said Wednesday.
Monday’s court filing challenges the state Division of Human Rights, which two months ago decided that Junke had no probable cause to pursue a discrimination claim against the city. Monday’s lawsuit just beat a 60-day deadline to seek judicial review of that May 28 ruling.
The Division of Human Rights complaint, filed, like Monday’s lawsuit, by Buffalo attorney Lindy Korn, said the city’s abolition of Junke’s job was retaliation for her notice of claim, and the budgetary issues were only a pretext. However, the state office ruled that the city’s budget problem was “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for complainant’s termination.” The sex issues were set aside because “there is no evidence of any sexual harassment or complaint of sexual harassment being made in the one-year period prior to the filing of the charge.”
Korn said of Monday’s filing: “This is something we do when we feel there’s been an error of law or a ruling that’s arbitrary or capricious.”
Asked if she was asserting the truth of Junke’s allegations against Tucker, Korn said only, “I am proud to represent Melissa Junke. I think she has a very strong case and I think she’s a courageous plaintiff.” Junke did not return a call seeking comment.
Up until now, Junke’s original complaint has been considered exempt from Freedom of Information Law requests, but it’s in the court file, along with the city’s detailed response and a copy of a draft notice of claim that included specific assertions about Tucker’s conduct. For example, in an exchange of text messages on June 19, 2013, Tucker, now 58, asked Junke, now 34, to send him a “pic” of herself.
“C’mon missy. For me. Just one. I’ll delete it by tomorrow. I promise. Nothing to be guilty about. It’ll be gone by morning,” the draft notice quotes Tucker as texting. It also asserts that as far back as 2007, when Junke became youth director, Tucker had “made numerous demands that (Junke) ‘flash’ her breasts at him and pull down her pants and ‘moon’ him.”
The draft notice also contends that Tucker was having an affair with another female city employee, and Junke helped conceal it, beginning in 2009, by driving the woman to a remote location in Orleans County, where Tucker would pick the woman up and take her on trips to Albany or “other functions.” Junke is the cousin of Tucker’s wife.
In May 2014, after Tucker had resigned, Junke filed an official notice of claim against the city that included no sexual harassment allegations. She never filed a lawsuit under that notice, which has now expired.
The original filing with the Division of Human Rights alleges that Junke met with Ottaviano on Feb. 20, 2014, and showed him the draft notice of claim. Tucker resigned the next day, but Ottaviano denied Wednesday that he ever met with Junke about the issue. He said he did meet with her regarding accusations that Junke misused Tucker’s city credit card to spend more than $9,000 on arrangements for a 2013 golf tournament, but sexual topics never came up.
Ottaviano said he did meet with Muscato a few days before Tucker stepped down.
The city’s formal response to Junke’s state complaint, which was written by attorney Ryan G. Smith of Buffalo’s Webster Szanyi law firm, says that happened Feb. 13, 2014, when Muscato allegedly showed Ottaviano the draft notice of claim with the sexual harassment allegations and, in Smith’s words, “she (Junke) requested that Mayor Tucker resign immediately, and if he did not, she would proceed to file the notice of claim. Essentially, Mr. Muscato was playing politics – he was seeking Mayor’s Tucker resignation so that (Junke) would not need to actually file her complaint with the city, and her tactics were successful insofar as Mayor Tucker did, in fact, resign, albeit for personal reasons.”
Tucker said at the time he was resigning to take advantage of opportunities in the private sector. Wednesday, he said he is “doing a little consulting” and driving 12 hours a week for Timkey Limousine Service.
Muscato did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday, but Ottaviano said he and Muscato “discussed” the sexual harassment allegations and Tucker’s possible resignation.
“I wouldn’t say it was a demand,” Ottaviano said. “There was no signed notice of claim, nothing signed by Melissa, so I gave it no credence whatsoever … I made it clear to Muscato that I did not work on speculation and hearsay.”
The Division of Human Rights rejected the sex charges because there is a one-year statute of limitations on such allegations. Junke was injured in a fall on an icy sidewalk outside her office on Jan. 6, 2014, and didn’t return to work, except for sessions with Brian D. Doyle, the attorney the city hired to investigate the credit card case. The Common Council abolished the post of director of youth and recreation on June 4, 2014, claiming financial reasons.
Junke’s complaint, originally filed Jan. 15, contests that reason, but the city presented an email written Nov. 12, 2013, by Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey, then Council president, suggesting to her colleagues that they do away with the job. That was two months before Junke’s injury and before the credit card issue became known in City Hall. A Jan. 22, 2014, letter from McCaffrey to Tucker says that the Council discussed the credit card issue with Tucker in closed session, and Tucker refused to discipline Junke. McCaffrey’s letter, co-signed by three other aldermen, urged Tucker to change his mind on that issue.
On Feb. 6, 2014, McCaffrey announced that the Council was starting an investigation of the use of city credit cards, without naming the target, but The Buffalo News reported that it was Junke. The Council voted to hire Doyle on Feb. 11, 2014. Doyle did compile a report, but it was months late, and Ottaviano said Doyle, who was supposed to be paid $200 an hour, never billed the city for his work.