Interoffice romance spurs legal action

A Roseville employee and his soon-to-be ex-wife both filed claims against the city
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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An interoffice romance had led to two claims against the City of Roseville. In her claim, Paula Tilley says a recent action by the city threatens her livelihood, and she’s seeking reparations. Her estranged husband, Michael Tilley, was demoted from a management position with the city to an administrative analyst position in June, cutting his annual salary by $36,000 — and decreasing his wife’s alimony once their divorce is finalized. The 59-year-old filed a claim against the city on Oct. 1 in the amount of $3.9 million, claiming the city unfairly demoted her husband. On Oct. 25, Michael Tilley, 51, filed a claim of his own against the city, alleging he was unfairly demoted. He is seeking unspecified damages. Two months later, the 13-year veteran of the city filed a complaint of discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, alleging he was forced to accept a demotion based on his religion and marital status. During the Roseville City Council meeting Feb. 17, Paula Tilley made her private struggles public by alerting council members to the demotion of her soon-to-be ex-husband. She says Michael Tilley was demoted as a result of inappropriately promoting his lover — who also worked for the city — to a position she was unqualified for in July 2008. According to Paula Tilley’s complaint, the woman, Shelly Salter, went from being a utility billing specialist to refuse superintendent in the Environmental Utilities Department, responsible for preparing budgets, implementing landfill maintenance and clean-up activities, supervising staff, developing refuse collection activities and exhibiting knowledge of related laws and regulations. Paula Tilley thinks upper management should have seen red flags and challenged the promotion. “If management had done their due diligence, a qualified candidate would have been promoted and I would not be here today,” she said during the council meeting. “I am not suggesting that city management can prevent sexual affairs. But it is management’s responsibility to ascertain why and how an employee is being promoted.” The city later said in a statement that its personnel rules were followed in the process that resulted in the promotion of Salter, and the city stands by its determination that the claim Paula Tilley filed is without merit. Although Paula Tilley refrained from delving into specifics regarding her marriage to the Press Tribune, she says cell phone records make her suspect that her husband began an extramarital affair with Salter in 2007. She said her husband filed for divorce in December 2009, after 21 years of marriage. According to Michael Tilley’s claim, he and Salter started dating after a Nov. 3, 2009 training session in which an employee specifically asked if the city had a policy regarding supervisors dating subordinates. At the time, he and his wife were legally separated. “The human resources representative performing the training stated clearly that the City of Roseville did not have such a policy,” he states in his claim. On March 29, the city adopted an “Interoffice Relationships Policy,” signed by former City Manager Mike Shellito. Michael Tilley says this policy has not been applied evenly to other couples in similar situations. “I am the only employee in the City of Roseville whose employment was significantly and detrimentally impacted,” he said in his claim. He alleges that he was singled out and retaliated against because he does not share his supervisor Derrick Whitehead’s Mormon beliefs that his behavior was “immoral” because he was dating another woman while not yet legally divorced. Michael Tilley says his supervisor knew of the relationship as early as February 2010. “My supervisor’s disapproval of my dating relationship ultimately led to my demotion,” he states in his claim against the city. In his discrimination claim, he also names Human Resources Manager Stacey Haney, Shellito and Assistant City Manager John Sprague as responsible parties. On June 11, a letter sent through and signed “Roseville city staff,” states that staff viewed “ongoing unethical and unprofessional behaviors exhibited by your management staff … yet, the city has done nothing about it.” The letter demanded an investigation into the hiring of Salter. On June 15, Michael Tilley signed a letter accepting his demotion in violation of the city’s interoffice relationship policy. He was demoted from Refuse Utility Manager to Administrative Analyst II in Environmental Utilities. His current salary is $91,478 as opposed to the $127,478 he previously earned. He went from supervising 50 people to none, and moved from an office into a cubicle. “He should have been reprimanded, but not as drastically as he was,” Paula Tilley said. “It takes two, and there’s a chain of command.” She said Michael Tilley called her soon after the demotion to tell her the news. “I put the ugly puzzle together,” she said. “(The city) thinks I’m doing this out of spite, and I’m not. I just think there’s more accountability. I think this shows a severe lack of respect for all the other people that work for the city. They think it’s all because of money and it isn’t. It’s the principle — the city did not do their job.” Sena Christian can be reached at ------------ EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated March 4 to include the statement by the City of Roseville.