In April, when Muin M. Kalla left his job as planning director for the Town of Paradise Valley, town manager John Baudek praised him as a model employee.
Kalla’s leaving was marked by a “resolution of appreciation” issued by the Paradise Valley Town Council for the dozen years in which Kalla “rendered valuable service and fulfilled the responsibilities of his office with loyalty, initiative and foresight,” helping to “guide the Town of Paradise Valley’s growth in many ways,” and “loyally and firmly protect[ing] the town’s `one house per acre’ philosophy.”
Nowhere in the resolution does it suggest that the 49-year-old Kalla also might be the sort of man who would publicly express his desire to “have boom boom” with women who worked with him at town headquarters.
Nor does it mention anything about a proclivity for touching women in inappropriate places at inappropriate times–or, when his overtures were rebuffed, for retaliating by writing memos critical of his subordinates’ job performance. Nothing in the resolution describes a man who might be capable of following a woman home during her lunch break, entering her home and eventually tossing her onto her bed and climbing on top of her.
These and other allegations against Muin Kalla can be found in another kind of official document: a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by four women who worked in proximity to the planning director at Paradise Valley Town Hall.
When asked if the lawsuit has anything to do with the planning director’s seemingly abrupt departure, town manager Baudek says Kalla resigned because he wanted to return to private practice, and that Kalla had “some opportunities in the Middle East” he wanted to explore.
A front-page story in the Paradise Valley Independent reported that Kalla resigned to help rebuild the sacked nation of Kuwait.
Kalla has not relocated to Kuwait, though he has made at least one trip there as an interpreter for a group that included the wife of Senator John McCain. Instead, Kalla is facing the potentially messy lawsuit filed by four former co-workers: Lisabeth Applefield, Bonnie Wieand, Kathleen Chapman and Eileen Rasmussen.
The women, who filed the suit on August 9, allege that Kalla subjected them to a hostile and abusive working environment through a series of boorish sexual advances and retaliatory memos he filed after each rebuff.
The lawsuit alleges that Kalla engaged in all manner of rudeness, that he often remarked how he would like to put his “dick dick” into their “puss puss,” that he quizzed the plaintiffs on their sexual habits, and that he once pulled his trousers tight across his groin and made graphic comments to the women.
The suit also names town manager Baudek and the Town of Paradise Valley, alleging that neither Baudek nor the town properly investigated the situation or took action against Kalla. Instead, the lawsuit notes, the town council allowed him to resign and even drafted the formal, public expression of the town’s gratitude.
Kalla’s attorney, Arthur Carter, says his client denies all accusations. “He is looking forward to vigorously defending himself in court and is confident that after a trial all of the plaintiffs’ allegations will be shown to be without merit,” Carter says.
Carter has advised Kalla not to speak to the press. That advice might be prudent, considering that in the days after the suit was filed, Kalla was quoted in the Scottsdale Progress as saying, “Just bring a bottle of Raid [to the trial]. This is how we usually take care of the insects. It will all be thrown in these girls’ faces.”
The women claim that Kalla hassled them in and out of the office.
Applefield, 44, who worked with Kalla as a town planning assistant and secretary, alleges that Kalla once followed her home on her lunch break, entered her house uninvited and demanded to be taken on a tour. In her complaint, she tells it this way: She dutifully showed her superior around, but refused to usher him into her bedroom. Kalla pushed his way into the room anyway, pulled her in after him and threw her on the bed, caressing her breasts and attempting to kiss her. She claims he left only after she convinced him that her mother was scheduled to join her for lunch at any moment.
Wieand, 49, who works as a secretary for town attorney Charles Ollinger, describes incidents in which Kalla allegedly forced her against a wall at the town hall and tried to kiss her while complaining that his “dick dick” was lonely.
Chapman, 20, started work as a clerk-cashier at the town hall in May 1990. Almost immediately, she claims, Kalla approached her, once grinding his pelvis against her.
A year ago, at a dinner for town employees hosted by Kalla and Baudek at La Posada resort immediately after the funeral of former town clerk Mary Ann Brines, the women allege that Kalla began stroking Chapman’s hair. Chapman also alleges that Kalla “caressed” her at the town hall.
Rasmussen, 48, is the only plaintiff who is married, and the only one who does not claim Kalla made direct advances toward her. According to the women’s attorneys, Jeff Miller and Angie Sinner, Rasmussen joined the suit because she was disturbed by the abusive atmosphere at the town hall. Baudek will not comment on the pending litigation, except to confirm that the four women are still employed at Paradise Valley Town Hall. But the town council did release a statement saying, in part, that the “town reacted immediately to the complaints received in January of 1991 by seeking outside legal guidance and taking prompt corrective action based on the evidence available and the severity of the alleged misconduct.”
Town officials say in their statement that while the four women described acts that began in 1987 (when Wieand first began working for the municipality), the women did not submit complaints of harassment until January 24, 1991, when Wieand told her immediate supervisor, town attorney Charles Ollinger, of an incident the previous July.
According to the town’s statement, Kalla denied the charges, was subsequently “counseled” on the town’s prohibitions against sexual harassment and had a letter of warning placed in his personnel file.
Bill Hayden, one of the attorneys representing the town in the case, says that after town officials became aware of more serious allegations in February, they asked town magistrate Dee Dee Myer to conduct an independent investigation. About 40 past and present employees were interviewed during the monthlong probe, says Hayden, but the results were inconclusive. During the investigation, Kalla was placed on administrative leave with pay.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the four women were asked to take polygraph tests. They refused on the advice of their attorneys. Kalla was also asked to take a polygraph examination–he also refused. In March, he submitted his resignation.
Kalla, who was born in Bethlehem and came to the United States when he was 16, has suggested that the harassment charges might have something to do with a cultural misunderstanding. After earning a degree from the University of Illinois and before coming to Paradise Valley, he served as director of planning and implementation for Qatar, a tiny Middle Eastern nation on a Persian Gulf peninsula adjacent to Kuwait. He has noted that it is not unusual for people of his culture to greet others with hugs and kisses, and that he was not reluctant to treat town employees in this manner.
The women, however, allege that Kalla’s actions were abusive.
Contrary to the town’s statement, they say they first complained of Kalla’s behavior to Mary Ann Brines, who functioned as personnel director, and that Baudek should have known about Kalla’s behavior merely from observing him around the office and at social occasions.
They also allege that the town has made things difficult for them since they made their complaints–they claim that for a time Kalla was even named acting personnel director, with direct supervisory power over them. They say long-standing town policies in regard to lunch hours, time off for doctor’s appointments and the cashing of personal checks were changed in an effort to segregate them from other employees, and to–in the words of attorney Miller–”turn them into the pariahs of the office.”
For the first time since they have been employed by the city, their lawsuit says, the women have begun to receive less-than-glowing job performance evaluations. They say they can no longer go to lunch at the same time.
“It seems like petty stuff, and taken separately it is all just petty stuff, but taken together it forms a pattern,” Sinner says. She adds that her clients want to keep their jobs with the town, that their reluctance to quit was one of the factors that caused them to put up with Kalla’s misbehavior. The idea of a lawsuit only arose–according to Miller and Sinner–after Chapman was hired by the town and Kalla began to make overtures to her.
“These were women in their 40s–rightly or wrongly, they believed they should be able to handle his advances,” says Miller. “But when they saw him coming on to this young woman, a line had been crossed.”
With Kalla gone, things are better for their clients, say Miller and Sinner. But the town has not admitted liability, and the women’s attorneys say it’s unlikely the suit will be settled out of court.
Lydia Kalla, Kalla’s wife, had little to say about the case when she answered the door last week at her south Tempe home, referring all questions about the case to attorney Arthur Carter. Her husband, she said, has been a very busy man since his resignation; he has real estate interests to look after and a war-ravaged nation to rebuild.
“It’s about money,” Lydia Kalla said with a shrug. “Those women, they’re all old and ugly and they aren’t very highly paid. They’re just trying to get something.”