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VALLEY FOCUS | San Fernando

Worker Termination Action Is Settled

October 09, 1998|HOLLY EDWARDS

More than a year after former Personnel Director Christine Lissik died of cancer, the city recently settled a wrongful-termination suit filed by her husband for $33,000.

Lissik's position was eliminated by a 3-2 council vote on July 21, 1997, said City Administrator John Ornelas. Lissik had been found to have cancer 2 1/2 weeks earlier, on July 4, 1997, said her husband, Nick Lissik.

The case has sparked strong emotions from Lissik's family and some members of the San Fernando City Council. While some council members called the vote a matter of administrative cost-cutting, others say it amounted to the termination of an employee who was on medical disability leave, a violation of the Federal Medical Leave Act.

"I was pretty much told we don't know how long it's going to be drawn out or whether she's going to live or die, so we had to cut her position now," said Councilwoman Joanne Baltierrez, who voted against Lissik's termination. "She was on medical disability at the time and wasn't costing the city any money. It was a very cold, callous and self-serving act."

However, Councilman Jose Hernandez said the decision to eliminate the personnel director's position was made before Lissik became ill.

"Ms. Lissik was aware of the impending consolidation of the personnel and finance departments and was looking for another job before she was diagnosed with cancer," Hernandez said.

But Councilman Doude Wysbeek said the decision to eliminate Lissik's position was made hurriedly before she died. Wysbeek added that he did not believe the amount of the settlement, awarded in September, was fair compensation.

"The council was fully aware that she had cancer, but for some reason there was an urgency to get her out right now," he said. "I wouldn't do that to my worst enemy."

Nick Lissik said he originally sought $175,000 from the city, but settled for much less to avoid a prolonged trial and mounting attorney's fees.

"I really wasn't concerned about the dollar value, just the principle of the thing, " he said. "This was an inhumane and cowardly act taken by the council."

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