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Former Archuleta County employee files class action lawsuit

Plaintiff seeks compensation for wrongful termination and harassment in the workplace

A former Archuleta County employee has filed a lawsuit against the county and the Board of County Commissioners saying she was wrongfully terminated after reporting gender-based harassment in the workplace.

According to a news release from Albrechta & Albrechta LLC, in late 2021, Archuleta County commissioners issued a $2,000 bonus to all employees who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic to thank them for their services. But commissioners decided to withhold the bonus from employees who took any leave related to COVID-19.

Lacy Brown, a former supervisor with the county’s Department of Human Services, said she took 6½ hours leave when she was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and was subsequently denied the bonus. Her attorneys say that is a violation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act.

“These federal laws also protected employees who took any leave related to COVID from retaliation,” the release says. “Withholding a bonus that was originally granted to all employees from only those employees who used federally protected leave is a direct form of retaliation for taking the leave.”

Archuleta County Commissioner Ronnie Maez declined to comment for this story.

When Brown learned she would not earn the bonus, she went to her supervisor who directed her to the county commissioners because they were responsible for the decision. When she did, she was told the communication with elected officials and her boss was inappropriate, according to the release.

The release said Brown was then subject to discriminatory statements based on her gender.

According to the lawsuit, county Administrator Scott Wall was overheard saying something to the effect that he would never meet with Brown alone “because she had a bad reputation around town.” Wall also allegedly made an offensive comment about a “homosexual man,” according to the lawsuit.

Brown and the man told human resources they planned to file formal complaints accusing Wall of creating a hostile work environment. The next day, the county accepted Wall’s voluntary resignation, “which included a generous payout of his contract,” according to the lawsuit.

“Mr. Wall was never formally reprimanded and was allowed to resign on his own terms and was paid to do so,” the lawsuit says.

Efforts to reach Wall for comment Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

After reporting the harassment, Brown’s attorneys allege the county began an investigation against Brown, and she decided to voluntarily resign as a result. The county allegedly refused to accept Brown’s resignation and instead terminated her employment.

“It is disappointing that the County I served for so long decided to terminate me after I reported harassment and after I voluntarily resigned,” Brown said in the release. “It is even more upsetting that all of this began simply because I challenged a decision by my elected officials to withhold a bonus from me and others when the County’s policy forced me to take time off during the pandemic.”

Brown is represented by Durango attorneys David and Eleni Albrechta, as well as Tod Thompson with Albrechta & Coble located in Ohio.

“Ms. Brown is standing up for her own rights after being terminated for reporting harassment in the workplace,” said David Albrechta, in the release. “She is also leading the charge for any employee who was denied the County-wide bonus simply because they were forced to take leave pursuant to the County’s own policies during a global pandemic.”

The lawsuit requests that Archuleta County compensate Brown for all income and benefits incurred from Oct. 24, 2021, as well as compensation for damage to her reputation and emotional distress.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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