A former policy associate for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has filed a discrimination complaint, claiming her bosses at the city ignored her physical limitations and requests for accommodations.
Hope Hoffman, who resigned on Oct. 29, filed the disability complaint with the state Department of Human Rights on Tuesday.
She said her supervisors made her attend events with the mayor that required her to walk long distances and dismissed her requests for accommodations that would have considered her mobility. Hoffman, who has spina bifida, wears a prosthetic on her right leg, which was amputated in 2018, and a brace on her left leg.
Hoffman said the city declined to investigate when she raised these complaints as an employee. The city has since reversed course.
Carter said Monday that the city’s human resources office will initiate a third-party investigation into the circumstances of Hoffman’s departure and that he’s working with city leadership to ensure the situation is not repeated.
“I’m disheartened our efforts to ensure Ms. Hoffman’s success were not enough to make her feel supported,” he said in a statement.
It’s the second human rights complaint filed against Carter’s office. In March 2018, former St. Paul Human Rights Director Jessica Kingston said the city ignored her concerns that the Police Department was blocking investigations of officer misconduct. The complaint was withdrawn as part of a $250,000 settlement.
Hoffman began her position in June following three years on the governor-appointed Young Women’s Cabinet. She said she encountered her first challenge Sept. 14 when she could not attend an event with Carter because the site did not have accessible parking and she did not have clear directions on where to meet the mayor.
Hoffman said she walked several blocks but never caught up to Carter, who moved between locations.
A week later, Hoffman asked her manager, Cherisse Turner, to let her know about events that did not require much walking and had accessible parking spots or opportunities to ride with the mayor, the complaint states. Turner told Hoffman to “use Google Earth” to find out for herself, her complaint said.
The relationship between Hoffman and her manager worsened, according to the complaint. Hoffman said she received more requests that pushed her physical limits.
Hoffman filed a workplace conduct complaint against Turner on Oct. 7 alleging discrimination. In a letter four days later, the city’s human resources office said her complaint did not warrant an investigation but noted that her bosses did not do enough to assess her accommodation requests.
Before her resignation, Hoffman said she also raised these issues directly with Carter, but nothing changed.
“My disability wasn’t taken into consideration,” she said, summing up her experience with the city.
A spokesman from the mayor’s office said that arrangements were made to support Hoffman. She was issued a government placard that granted her special parking privileges on the job. She was allowed to park in one of two spots at City Hall that were reserved for the mayor. And she was also given a computer tablet that was easier to carry and allowed her to work from home occasionally.
The city contends that Hoffman also received information about how to formally request accommodations for her disability. But that did not happen until she was on the brink of resigning. The city’s accommodation coordinator attached the proper forms to a letter Oct. 15, a month after Hoffman’s first request.
Carter and other officials were not available for interviews.
Hoffman is expected to discuss her experience during a state Senate Human Services Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday. Her father, DFL Sen. John Hoffman, sits on the panel.
The committee will discuss workplace treatment of public employees who have disabilities.