By Michael Howell
At the request of the Bitterroot Star, the Department of Labor and Industry has released the human rights complaint filed by former Road Department employee Danielle Senn against Ravalli County, Road Department Operations Manager Dusty McKern and Human Resources Director Robert Jenni. Senn claims to have been discriminated against by the County when they fired her from her job in September, 2013. She alleges that she was fired in retaliation for pursuing justified grievances against McKern and Jenni for violating the rules contained in the employee handbook and for violence in the workplace. She calls the County’s claim that she was let go as part of a Reduction in Force related to the potential lack of SRS funding a “pretext.”
Senn alleges that after McKern was hired to serve as Operations Manager in November of 2012, he began engaging in intimidation of persons in the workplace by carrying an axe handle around and throwing things at county equipment and damaging it. She alleges he failed to report the damage. Senn also claims to have observed McKern threaten to “kick the ass” of employees while contemporaneously relating stories of personal physical fights in which he had participated. She said he made adverse comments about the age of the road crew and said they should all retire. She claimed to have witnessed McKern belittling an overweight crewmember’s eating habits. She also accuses him of engaging in profanity-laced tirades about his employment.
Senn claims that McKern would walk into the breakroom and say to the crew, “Good morning, you motherf…..s.” She allegedly witnessed Mckern come into the office when a crew member was in there and tell them to “get the f… out, what the f… are you doing in here! Get back to f…..g work!” She claims he spoke like this on multiple occasions. McKern was also observed using the county vehicle for personal uses.
After Senn took these complaints to Human Resource Director Robert Jenni, McKern confronted her, saying she had “ratted him out” and then told her to “f..k off.”
Senn then took complaints about both men’s behavior through the grievance process with the Board of Commissioners. She claims they validated some of the grievances lodged against McKern, denied others and refused all grievances lodged against Jenni. Following the grievance hearing, Senn was terminated “on the pretext that lack of SRS funding necessitated restructuring the administrative functions within the Road Department.”
Senn’s complaint alleges discrimination, violation of fair practices and retaliation. She requests as remedy actual damages for loss of wages and benefits and medical expenses; re-employment in a comparable position to the one lost; insulation from the Human Resources Department; an outside investigation of the county’s employment policy, including a county-wide survey of county employees to ascertain the nature, extent, and causation, if any, for the County’s non-compliance with the governmental code of fair practices and its employee handbook; training for McKern in the areas of fair employment practice, anger management in the workplace, violence and profanity in the workplace, and non-discriminatory treatment of employees. She also asks that Jenni receive training on the conduct of employee grievances, human resource investigations, confidentiality of investigations, discipline for violation of the employee handbook, discrimination, fair employment practices in government, violence and profanity in the workplace and all forms of retaliation.
She asks that the County Commissioners also receive the same kind of training as the Human Resources Director.
The County, in its response to the charges, denies all of the allegations with a few exceptions. They admit that McKern carried an axe handle to work for a short time, but deny that he used it to intimidate employees. They admit that he damaged a county vehicle by breaking the windshield with his cell phone. They claim that he has permission to use the county vehicle to drive to and from work and to perform incidental personal errands during non-working hours with the county truck. They state that McKern damaged the vehicle during non-working hours and paid personally to have it repaired. They claim he did not know he had to report the incident.
The County also argues that the man allegedly teased by Mckern about his weight was not offended and in fact was upset that Senn was using him to bolster her claims. They admit that McKern used profanity in the workplace “in that he used words that may be frowned upon in professional settings but not necessarily uncommon in the setting in which he worked.” They argue that no one else complained and that Senn didn’t either “until she became disgruntled for other reasons.” The Commissioners ask the Department of Labor and Industry investigator to interview Ravalli County employees in person about the allegations.
The Human Rights Bureau has yet to make a decision in the case. The County settled a Human Rights Complaint alleging wrongful termination lodged by the previous Road Department Secretary for $35,000 and recently settled a wrongful termination lawsuit lodged by the previous Road Department Supervisor for $125,000.