Charges of Inver Grove Heights City Hall as a troubled workplace emerged again last week when a city employee leveled new allegations of bullying, retaliation and sexism against City Administrator Joe Lynch.

What began as a discussion about whether a City Council member had illegally shared an e-mail last fall turned into a forum for Janet Shefchik, the city's human resources manager, to share her experiences working at City Hall.

Shefchik told the council at the Monday night meeting that she learned there may be an investigation against her involving a potential data breach, and that she believed it was retaliation against her by Lynch.

She said she was harassed and her work environment became hostile after she cooperated with an investigation of Lynch for sexual harassment in 2018. That investigation found Lynch had made suggestive and insulting comments to a female employee, resulting in his suspension for three days.

Shefchik said she was subjected to "daily micro-aggressions," presumably to compel her to quit. "I put my head down and excelled at my work in the aftermath of chaos and fear," she said.

Lynch declined to comment for this story, as did Shefchik.

Scott Lepak, the city's labor and employment attorney, told the council he was hired to conduct an investigation into a possible data breach. He said Council Member Brenda Dietrich brought an e-mail to a performance review of Lynch in September 2019 that was an exchange between Lynch and an employee that referred to other employees. That made it a possible violation of the state Data Practices Act, he said.

The question was whether Dietrich received the e-mail from Shefchik and why it didn't go to the entire council. And Dietrich wasn't saying, Lepak said.

Shefchik said she's an expert on the Data Practices Act and that she didn't violate it. Her attorney, Sarah McEllistrem, said she doubted a data breach had even occurred.

Shefchik asked how many investigations had been started by Lynch against employees who had filed complaints against him, and estimated the city had spent $400,000 on investigations and consultants because of him.

"There is a history and a distinct pattern in Inver Grove Heights that never should have been allowed, and it needs to stop here," she said. "This city and its residents deserve better."

In an interview, Lepak said the issues raised by Shefchik were "a sideshow" and "not particularly germane" to his task.

Dietrich said Friday that Lepak's allegations were "not her truth" and that she wasn't responsible for a data breach. She said she's heard concerns from constituents about City Hall. "My only focus is having the truth come out and having a productive, ethical work environment," she said.

After an employee survey last summer found issues with the work culture at City Hall, officials hired consultants to design a seven-month plan to improve the climate.

The City Council voted to continue the discussion at its Aug. 10 meeting, when Lepak said he would share any additional findings. The subjects of the investigation can decide whether that meeting is public, city officials said.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781