LOCKPORT – A state Division of Human Rights hearing over the ouster of former City of Lockport Youth and Recreation Director Melissa I. Junke ended Monday in Buffalo.
Junke’s $54,000-a-year job was abolished by the Common Council in 2014, with the city attributing the action to its financial crisis at that time and arguing that the move had been proposed eight months before it happened. Junke had been investigated in 2013 over alleged misuse of a city credit card.
When she lost her job, she was receiving workers’ compensation benefits because of a back injury that was suffered in a fall on an icy sidewalk outside her office.
Junke contended that she was ousted in retribution for her complaints about alleged sexual harassment by then-Mayor Michael W. Tucker, who resigned Feb. 21, 2014, the day after Junke’s attorney presented a threatened lawsuit over the harassment. Junke also testified that she helped cover up a sexual affair that Tucker was having with another city employee. Tucker has denied those allegations to The Buffalo News.
The hearing ended with testimony from current Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey and from John P. Schiavone, the Lumsden & McCormick accountant who helped prepare the 2014 city budget.
Junke’s attorney, Lindy Korn, said both sides will write briefs based on the hearing transcript before Administrative Law Judge Martin Erazo Jr. drafts a decision. The sides then will present any objections to Human Rights Commissioner Helen D. Foster, who makes the final ruling.
Korn said that based on her experience in other cases, the process may last an additional four to six months.
“Whatever damages are available, we’ll be seeking,” Korn said, but she declined to discuss details.
“We remain confident in our position and in our defense of this matter,” McCaffrey said.
In 2015, the Buffalo office of the Division of Human Rights ruled that Junke had no evidence that she was the victim of retaliation, but 10 months later changed its mind and ordered the hearing, which began July 18 and 19. There was a two-month adjournment before Monday’s session.