In an at-times emotional argument, Rochester City Council Member Molly Dennis made her case Tuesday before a federal judge in St. Paul to let her discrimination suit against the city of Rochester continue.

Attorneys for the city are trying to have the suit dismissed, arguing in a hearing before Magistrate Judge Douglas Micko that Dennis doesn't have the grounds to sue the city for allegedly discriminating against her due to her attention disorder.

Dennis, representing herself, argued the city and her fellow council members have intentionally ostracized and bullied her because she processes things differently. She said the city's efforts, including a March 2023 censure from the council that lasted the rest of the year, not properly accommodating her need for breaks during public meetings and allegedly trying to stifle her requests for more information on city issues, all affect her ability to serve her constituents.

"I've been jumping through hoops to try to basically do my job," Dennis said.

Micko didn't rule on the city's motion to dismiss the case, preferring to issue a written order after reviewing Tuesday's hearing.

Attorney Erin Emory of Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel, representing the city, argued Dennis' lawsuit should be dismissed in large part because the council's censure against her wasn't based on her disability symptoms but her behavior toward city staff and elected officials.

"There is no overlap," Emory said.

Dennis said the censure was retaliatory based on issues she brought up to City Administrator Alison Zelms and City Attorney Michael Spindler-Krage. She told the court the city had no physical evidence to back up their claims she harassed staff and acted inappropriately as a public official, which was the basis behind the council's decision to censure her in March 2023 and limit her ability to communicate to city staff.

City attorneys argued Rochester officials were trying to protect staff from having further issues with Dennis; Dennis said she's only ever had issues with Zelms and Spindler-Krage.

Spindler-Krage, who attended Tuesday's hearing, declined to comment.

Dennis also told the court Mayor Kim Norton defamed her when Norton told a third-party investigator looking into Dennis' discrimination claims last summer that Dennis has tried to fix parking tickets.

Norton's comment was included in the investigator's report in a section where the mayor described how she felt Dennis "micromanages and abuses her authority" by getting personally involved in incidents rather than directing residents to staff members. Norton said Dennis had demanded information in the past on confidential police matters.

Emory argued Norton's comments were protected by free speech case law, arguing Norton was being candid in her comments to an investigator. Dennis told the court she had never tried to fix parking tickets and argued Norton's comments were slanderous.

Dennis said after the hearing she was surprised and somewhat frustrated by the court process — she had tried to submit a 17-page oral argument but Micko declined to accept it, saying both sides' views had been well-represented in court filings.

Still, Dennis said she hopes the case goes to trial and more information is made public through the discovery process. City attorneys are trying to seal some documents related to the case; Micko ordered Dennis and the city's lawyers to figure out what documents needed to be sealed.

"This is not about anything other than getting my name cleared and the truth coming out," Dennis said. "I'm not going to walk away from this."

Correction: In a previous version of this story, the Star Tribune misidentified Magistrate Judge Douglas Micko's title.