City settles with fired planner who alleged sex discrimination, whistleblower retaliation

Daily Post Staff Writer

The city of Palo Alto has agreed to pay a transportation planner it fired last year more than $47,000 after she filed a claim alleging sex discrimination and whistleblower retaliation, according to documents obtained by the Post.

Sarah Syed, 37, will also have her personnel file revised to refer to the 19-month period following her firing on Feb. 6, 2016 as an approved, unpaid leave of absence.

According to the settlement, which was signed by Syed, her attorney Andy Katz and City Manager Jim Keene early last month, Syed was briefly reinstated to her position as senior transportation planner from Nov. 3 to Nov. 9.

For those five days, Syed wrote research reports remotely and was paid $2,504.92, payment for 44 hours of work at her rate from Feb. 5, 2016, plus cost of living adjustments and pension disbursements.

The city also agreed to pay her a severance payment of $47,495.08, which was to be paid by Nov. 20.

In signing the settlement, Syed agreed not to file any other grievance, claim or cause of action relating to her employment with the city. She also agreed not to apply for any work with the city in the future unless invited to do so.

‘Malice, corruption and fraud’ alleged

Syed filed the claim on Aug. 4, 2016, six months after she said she was wrongfully fired with “malice, corruption and fraud” on the part of the city. She was hired in April 2015.

The claim does not explain Syed’s allegation of sex discrimination, but names two current planning officials and one former employee.

Syed claimed that the city’s director of planning and community environment, Hillary Gitelman, had “maliciously induced (Syed) to accept employment at the city under false pretenses.”

The claim also contended that the city’s hiring of Jessica Sullivan as parking manager in October 2013, and Sullivan’s promotion to the position of planning manager of the Transportation Division in February 2015, constituted “negligent and reckless hiring, and injured Ms. Syed in the course of these events.”

According to Syed’s claim, Sullivan’s promotion violated the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity policies, but Syed doesn’t explain how. Syed said she faced retaliation for reporting the violation. Sullivan was hired and promoted before Syed began working for the city.

Sullivan left the city in April 2016 for a job as a real estate project executive with Google, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Claim made over disparaging information

The city’s Chief Transportation Official, Josh Mello, was also named in Syed’s claim as having “made false representations to Ms. Syed following her six-month performance appraisal.”

On March 17, 2016, Syed claimed that Mello wrongfully disclosed confidential and disparaging information about Syed’s employment, which injured her professional reputation.

While with the city, Syed oversaw the implementation of bike and pedestrian projects and advanced community outreach, leading public workshops and serving as the Transportation Department lead on the development of a community mobile app, according to Syed’s website.