Former San Jose mayor staffer sues for defamation
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks at a Sept. 12, 2023 news conference at City Hall in this file photo.

A former executive team member of San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s office is suing the mayor, his chief of staff and the city for defamation nearly a year after she was fired.

Stacey Katz Brown alleges that Mahan and his chief of staff, Jim Reed, damaged her reputation by wrongfully accusing her of leaking confidential information—firing her—and not giving her the opportunity to defend herself. She claims Mahan and Reed spread the reason for her termination across the Silicon Valley political scene and that she hasn’t been able to secure employment because of it.

Brown is represented by prolific civil rights attorney Jim McManis, who filed the Jan. 3 lawsuit on her behalf through the United States District Court. This comes after Brown filed a claim through the city last June. City Attorney Nora Frimann rejected her claim a month later.

“We tried to have several conversations over there (with the city) to get this thing resolved, but they didn’t want to give us the time of day,” McManis told San José Spotlight. “So I’m going to take Reed’s deposition and take Mahan’s deposition and we are going to get to the bottom of this.”

Mahan recruited and hired Brown at the start of last year to help develop a city budget that reflected his priorities, as well as to craft performance metrics for accountability.

Her first day of work was Jan. 1, but by Jan. 7, she had been placed on administrative leave and fired by Jan. 9.

Brown’s lawsuit said on Jan. 5 “Reed came bursting through the (office) door and loudly announced to the room that Mayor Mahan was irate” because Mahan’s planned choice for vice mayor, Rosemary Kamei, was leaked to Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, his opponent in the mayor’s race.

Two days later, Reed called Brown and accused her of leaking the information about the vice mayor selection, which Brown “immediately and unequivocally denied.”

Reed told Brown she would be placed on administrative leave and was disconnected from city servers within minutes of the call. Brown tried to appeal to Mahan the next day, but she was rebuffed.

“Instead of giving her her day in court and trying to hear her side of it, (Mahan) just said, ‘I’m going to go along with Reed,’ which I thought was disgraceful,” McManis said. “Those are very serious charges and she never had a chance to clear her name, so now she’s going to have that chance at federal court.”

Within weeks of her termination, she received calls from former colleagues and news reporters asking if accusations were true. When she tried to apply for other jobs, her efforts “went nowhere” because of the accusations, the lawsuit states.

Reed told San José Spotlight he believes the lawsuit is “baseless.”

“We intend to fully defend against these falsehoods,” Reed said.

Mahan deferred to Reed’s comments. City Attorney Nora Frimann did not respond to requests for comment.

In the lawsuit, Brown also details how her offer letter was delayed by several days and different than what was agreed to verbally. She asked for $180,000 and was promised $158,000, but offered $152,500.

Brown said she was forced to accept the offer because she had already informed her former boss about her departure. Brown previously served as chief of staff for District 4 Councilmember David Cohen from January 2021 until December 2022.

McManis, on behalf of Brown, also filed a lawsuit against San Jose in July 2023, arguing the city has violated the California Public Records Act by serially extending its own deadline to respond to a records request submitted by Brown in March of that year.

Brown’s record request focuses on a series of communications between Mahan, Reed and other members of the mayor’s team during the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023.

“We tried to get a lot of information through our Public Records Act case in state court and we got shut down, so we’re going to do a civil discovery in federal court (to clear Brown’s name),” McManis said. “I’ve won my good my share of cases and I believe I will win this one too.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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