Former Ada County employee suing for $1.5 million

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by Stephanie Zepelin

NWCN.com

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 14 at 11:42 AM

BOISE -- A former Ada County administrator is suing the county and two commissioners for $1.5 million.

Rich Wright is suing Ada County, Commissioner Jim Tibbs and Commissioner David Case for wrongful termination.. As director of Administrative Services, Wright was in charge of the Human Resources Department.

According to court documents filed in Ada County on Feb. 12, 2013, Wright got a complaint that a manager in the Board of Commissioner's Office was harassing employees. So he coordinated an investigation. Those documents say that an investigation showed harassment did happen, and gave the employee the choice to resign or be fired.

The lawsuit says the employee is a personal friend of former Commissioner Vern Bisterfeldt, and current commissioners Case and Tibbs.

It goes on to say that Case refused to meet with Wright, and Tibbs sided with Case.

Then, on January 14, 2013, Larry Maneely was appointed to a new position -- chief of staff. The next day, Wright was terminated.

The lawsuit says Commissioner Case said there were no performance issues with Wright, but that his position was being eliminated as part of "reorganization."

We turned to former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy for legal interpretation.

"Employees at will can be terminated at any time for no reason or no cause. But a lot of large employers, like Ada County, typically have contracts or personnel handbooks and those handbooks and policies in effect constitute a contract," said Leroy. "They must be followed and therefore to the extent that they modify the at will concepts, an employee is no longer at will when he or she works for one of those kinds of corporations or entities."

Leroy goes on to say, "A wrongful termination in any case, including that of Mr. Wright, would have to be sufficient in proof that some procedure, some policy, some law was not followed."

Wright and his lawyers are asking for $1.5 million.

"Unless there is some kind of substantial damages in terms of the loss of long-term income, or some kind of loss of reputation, something unique, it would be an unusual public employees case that would aggregate to a million five in damages," said Leroy.

Leroy said there is no way to predict the outcome of the case without more information. But, he said, Ada County has "relatively careful" employment practices.

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