Debbie Streichsbier, promoted almost exactly a year ago to head Palm Coast government’s human resources department only for Streichsbier to resign or get fired nine months later, is suing the city over what she claims are the city’s refusal to pay her severance and insurance premiums.
Streichsbier claims she resigned. The city claims she was fired.
Streichsbier filed an amended complaint in the suit through her Winter Park attorney, Travis Hollifield, in Flagler County Circuit Court Tuesday. The original complaint was filed several days earlier. (Hollifield’s office is 6 miles from that of the Palm Coast city attorney’s). She claims that on March 20, City Clerk Virginia Smith forwarded a “separation agreement” to Tim Wilsey, asking him to also forward it to Streichsbier for her execution.
“Also, please request Ms. Streichsbier to revoke her resignation date in her letter, in writing to the City, as this is neither a resignation nor a termination; it is a separation agreement.”
The agreement states she elected voluntarily to resigned on March 16 and releases the city of all claims, foregoing any legal actions. The city was to pay Streichsbier a severance of four months’ salary (what would have been in the range of $25,000) and maintain her insurance premiums through Cobra for those four months, along with accumulated vacation and sick days’ equivalents in pay. The agreement was signed by Streichsbier and Wilsey on March 20, and notarized. Streichsbier and Wilsey initialed every page of the document.
On March 20, City Manager Matt Morton wrote Streichsbier of recieiving an undated letter from her stating she resigned as of April 6. “This letter was not in compliance as to what we agreed upon,” Morton wrote. “Your resignation letter was not accepted. You were asked to leave and you were escorted out of City offices on march 16, 2020.”
Morton described the March 20 document by Streichsbier as a “revised letter rescinding your resignation letter at the City’s request,” and that she requested the separation agreement. “Mr. Wilsey was coerced into executing this agreement without authority being granted to him to enter into the agreement. Therefore the agreement is not enforceable. You did not adhere to the verbal terms that we had discussed on March 16, 2020 meeting.” It would be unusual for a court to take “verbal terms” over a written, signed document–to give what would amount to he-she-said exchanges moire weight than what is in the record absent a more documented trail of “the verbal terms” Morton is referring to.
Morton then listed policy violations he said led to Streichsbier’s firing, among them “inappropriate display of temper or disrespect” and “disgraceful personal conduct which negatively reflects upon the city.”
Streichsbier in her lawsuit, which seeks damages exceeding $30,000, is charging one count of “anticipatory breach by repudiation,” a different way of charging breach of contract. In such legal actions, the person suing must show that the party being sued has absolutely refused to fulfill the terms of a contract, placing that burden on the person suing. The issue in this case would revolve around what constitutes the contract in question. Streichsbier is pointing to a written document. The city is referring to a verbal agreement.
As the matter will be mediated–as all civil matters are required to be mediated–that definition will play a central role, if it gets that far. The matter may well be settled before it does, considering the low amounts in contention and the city’s record of similar separation agreements before Streichsbier’s.
The city has not yet answered the claim, and has a few weeks to do so. The lawsuit was not unexpected. Streichsbier had spoken of her pending action to the Observer in April.
The city announced Streichsbier’s elevation to director of human resources on June 17, 2019, after Streichsbier had worked for the city for four and a half years as a compensation analyst and manager. The city then devoted a PR feature to her in October, describing her small-business career as the owner of a shop called ‘Here Comes the Bride’ before she switched careers to have more time raising five children.
“Then,” the feature read, “like many who migrate to the area, she landed in Palm Coast to be closer to family. Not long after that, she joined the city of Palm Coast bringing lessons from the boutique and other businesses to the Human Resources Department such as finances, advertising and how to be profitable.”