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Long Beach City attorney files federal complaint, charging city with "gross' pay discrimination

Long Beach City Council voted down a settlement in the case against Long Beach attorney working for the city.
Long Beach City Council voted down a settlement in the case against Long Beach attorney working for the city.
Christina Daly/Herald

A Long Beach City attorney last week filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the city, charging it with gross discrimination in pay. The complaint may be followed by a federal lawsuit, the complaint says.

Megan Conger, who has been an attorney for Long Beach since 2019, took the action after the City Council in June unanimously rejected a proposal to pay her $75,000 to settle her pay discrimination complaint. She told city officials earlier this year that she believed her pay was unequal to men in the city's Law office.

If the council had approved the proposal, the agreement called for Conger to leave her position. Conger now remains at her job.

In papers filed last week with the EEOC, her attorney Jack Tuckner, of the Manhattan law firm Tuckner Sipser Weinstock & Sipser, said that the city had engaged in "unlawful employment practices" and that Conger, who lives in Long Beach, was "subject to discrimination...in the form of an overt gender pay disparity."

John McNally, executive assistant to the Long Beach City Manager, said "We don't comment on personnel matters."

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Conger said the matter has had a huge impact on her life.

"It was so frustrating to learn that my male colleagues were making more than me," she said. "The City Council has refused to right this wrong."

Conger has just gotten married, and said this should be a happy time in her life. Instead, she said, she received unpleasant emails from her immediate supervisor, City Corporation Counsel Simone Marie Freeman, who Conger said sent the emails during the weekend of her wedding in late May. The emails, Conger said, focused on adding to her workload and relieving her of responsibility for federal legal matters, her expertise.

Freeman declined to comment, referring questions to McNally.

Tuckner said in the papers that Conger was paid $68,750, and she understood that two male colleagues in the city's law office -- Richard Berrios and Gregory Kalnitsky -- were earning thousands more. Berrios and Kalnitsky could not be reached for comment.

Conger complained to then city manager John Mirando about the pay disparity. In late January, the papers filed with EEOC say, Mirando conceded the legitimacy" of the complaint and sent the city council a letter stating that "a substantial raise was in order."

According to the complaint, Mirando wrote that:

"Megan is well underpaid for her experience and I want to be sure we don't lose an attorney of her caliber." The papers said Mirando would raise her salary to $88,750. Conger was told in an email a $20,000 raise would be reflected in her next paycheck.

(Mirando stepped down in February as city manager and is now public works commissioner. He has been replaced by Donna Gayden, a municipal finance expert.)

But instead of the pay increase, Mirando notified Conger that before her salary increase would be approved, the entire city council was required to meet with her. Tuckner's papers say such a move was not needed. Mirando was said to be on vacation and unavailable for comment.

The EEOC papers said also that Conger had previously met with three city council members, and that city council president John Bendo "had the independent authority to unilaterally '' approve the pay increase. Bendo did not return several calls seeking comment.

A meeting was scheduled for Feb 4, but only two female council members, Elizabeth Treston and Karen McInnis, attended, the papers say. They said Conger expressed concern that the other members were not there. McInnis, the papers say, said Conger was "lucky" that only the women were in attendance. Treston did not return a call; McInnis could not be reached.

Conger was notified later that Mirando had rescinded his pay order at the directive of the city council. Her allegations were denied and, the EEOC papers said, the primary defense was that Conger had negotiated her starting salary.

Tucker's paper said that Conger's male colleagues "command ludicrously higher salaries," and that "there is clearly no seniority, merit or quantity/quality of production system in place to justify the substantial per annum differential pay." Tucker said the EEOC filing is a "prerequisite to litigation in federal court."

In her own statement, Conger said she has suffered retaliation from Freeman. She said Freeman was not communicating directly with her and was "sabotaging" her employment.

Nevertheless, Conger said in her complaint that she "came to terms" with the city and agreed to the $75,000 settlement, with the proviso that she would leave her job. But before the June city council vote,. Conger said a post appeared on Facebook critical of the settlement.

Conger said she happened to be standing next to a copier when she overheard Freeman "on the telephone openly discussing the Facebook post, the settlement agreement and my ongoing employment." Conger said Freeman expressed her belief that the city council was "upset" about the Facebook post and "may rescind the equitable settlement."

After the council rejected the settlement, Conger said Gayden called for a meeting to conduct "a counseling session" with her. Conger said this was "a clear and threatening adverse employment action" taken against her "as punishment for opposing unlawful employment practices."