Two people contacted the Bitterroot Star about the story we ran disclosing the information contained in the Human Rights Complaint filed by former Road Department employee Danielle Senn against the Ravalli County Commissioners for wrongful termination. They pointed out that the story failed to disclose that the complaint had been dismissed by the Human Rights Bureau. They wondered if we wanted to cover up that fact?
Not at all. It was an inadvertent and unfortunate omission. While there are no errors to correct in the story about the complaint itself, the fact that it was dismissed is both relevant and interesting and can help us in understanding the complaint. So here’s the rest of the story.
Senn filed her complaint in September of 2013. In November 2013 the Bitterroot Star requested a copy of the complaint and related documents from the Human Rights Bureau (HRB). In April 2014 the HRB dismissed Senn’s complaint for no cause. It was not until July 2014, however, that the Bitterroot Star received the information in the complaint and ran the story relating the contents.
The fact that the Complaint was dismissed means, for one thing, that Senn did not prove her claim that she was wrongfully terminated when the Commissioners laid her off as part of a Reduction in Force necessitated by budget considerations. Senn alleged that this was just a “pretext” to fire her over her whistleblowing activities. The Human Rights Bureau was not convinced.
But it is worth noting, as well, that although some allegations in the complaint were found to be unsubstantiated or otherwise unsupportable, other allegations were admitted to. And some of the things admitted to are disturbing.
For instance, the county admits that the Road Department Operations Supervisor carried an axe handle around on the job, but claims he did not intimidate anyone with it. If it wasn’t meant to intimidate anyone, was it just for self-defense then? In high school we called that sort of thing an “equalizer.” That too would seem to indicate a problem in the work environment. It should not be necessary to slap an axe handle against your thigh as you bark out orders to get a work crew’s attention and make them take you seriously.
Then there is the foul language. We got a preview of the supervisor’s inappropriate use of language in a memo to the employees that he wrote when he first arrived on the job. That language was eventually deleted from the memo, but apparently continued in the workplace. The commissioners, in their reply to Senn’s complaint, suggest that this sort of language is common and to be expected in certain work environments.
We disagree. In our view, no department head at the county should be allowed to carry around an axe handle and ‘cuss like a sailor.’ We hope the commissioners, despite their lame excuses about the behavior in their legal brief, will actually take some steps to ensure that this type of behavior is not tolerated in the future.
We also hope they took some action about the Human Rights Director’s lapse when he conveyed the name of the employee registering a complaint against her supervisor to the supervisor being complained about. This should not happen again either.