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County settles wrongful discharge case

 

By Michael Howell

Back on September 21, 2011, Ravalli County Road Department Secretary Jackie Johnson’s (now Jackie Johnson Souza) employment was terminated. Souza filed suit on September 13, 2012, alleging wrongful discharge and age discrimination. Last Tuesday, July 30, the County Commissioners agreed to settle Souza’s claims for $33,000 without admitting any liability.

Souza, who is 54 years of age, claimed that following her discharge she was replaced by an unqualified and inexperienced employee who was 24 years of age. She claims that she was discriminated against on the basis of age.

Complaints were made to both the Human Rights Bureau and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Notice was received from the Human Rights Bureau following an initial investigation that no just cause could be found for the termination.

Souza claimed to have suffered both economic damages as well as emotional distress and mental anguish. “In addition [she] suffered physical sickness arising out of the stress” caused by the illegal treatment. She asked for damages on both counts, to be determined at trial, and for attorney fees.

In the Settlement Agreement, the County agreed to pay $11,000 to Souza’s attorneys, Antonioli and Wade in Missoula, $11,000 to Souza, and $11,000 to Souza “for other claims and damages which Releasor allocates to physical sickness arising out of emotional distress caused by Releasor’s conduct.”

Four months after Souza’s termination, then Road Department Supervisor David Ohnstad was also terminated, in January, 2012. Ohnstad has filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit in federal court and that trial is set for some time in December.

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