Rochester city councilmember files civil suit against city, mayor

A Rochester councilmember filed a lawsuit against the City of Rochester and Mayor Kim Norton, as well as councilmember Patrick Keane on Monday.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS sister station KAAL initially reported that Molly Dennis, the Ward 6 representative, claims that Rochester staff violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and retaliated against her for opposing her own discrimination.

The City of Rochester communications director, Jenna Bowman, issued the following statement, “The City of Rochester received a summons and complaint filed by Councilmember Molly Dennis on January 22, 2024. The defendants identified in the lawsuit are the City of Rochester, Councilmember Patrick Keane and Mayor Kim Norton. The City of Rochester is committed to defending itself from Councilmember Dennis’s claims against the City. It has retained outside legal counsel through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, as is standard with legal matters involving the organization. Due to the litigable nature of this item, the City of Rochester cannot comment further at this time.”

Dennis was formally censured by the city council in March of 2023.

The censure ended in January of 2024. At that time, the city council claimed Dennis displayed inappropriate and at times, threatening behavior toward city staff.

Dennis, however, claimed that the city was retaliating against behaviors that were part of her ADHD diagnosis. She later refuted the results of an investigation that claimed the city council had not discriminated against her, according to KAAL.

Dennis’ lawsuit once again claims that she was punished by city staff and her fellow council members for difficulty focusing, a short attention span, and hyperactivity, in a way that restricted her access to city staff when she had questions. The civil complaint first states that Dennis was functionally a City of Rochester employee, not an elected official, based entirely on the way she was treated by staff.

The ADA protects federal and state employees from discrimination on the basis of their disabilities and also requires that city and state organizations provide reasonable accommodations for those hoping to take part in public programming.

Dennis requested compensation in “excess of $50,000” for each count listed in her lawsuit.

Dennis’ filing contains eight counts: four alleging that the city discriminated against her, one alleging retaliation, one alleging a violation of the Civil Rights Act, one claiming the city staff “demot(ed) Dennis to employee status without due process,” and one each naming Mayor Kim Norton, alleging that the mayor made a defamatory statement about a parking ticket Dennis received.

“I’m so disappointed that CM Dennis is proceeding in this manner. The time, the costs, and the damage to relationships associated with what I believe is a baseless lawsuit are not good for our community,” Mayor Kim Norton said in a statement.