Ex-employee claims Pitkin County retaliated by firing him | AspenTimes.com

Ex-employee claims Pitkin County retaliated by firing him

A former human resources official for Pitkin County is suing his ex-employer on claims that he was wrongfully fired and retaliated against because he complained that the county was violating federal laws regarding compensation and benefits.

Stephen C. Pingree’s suit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Denver, accuses the county of ignoring the Family Medical Leave Act when he needed to take time off from work to attend to his son’s and stepson’s medical appointments.

His suit also alleges the county illegally denied benefits to a “morbidly obese” employee so that it could save money. Four months after the county made the woman a full-time employee — which came after Pingree made repeated efforts to elevate her position — she died and didn’t quality for life-insurance benefits because she hadn’t been a permanent county employee for six months, the suit claims.

The suit names as defendants the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, County Manager Jon Peacock, Human Resources Director Dannette Logan and Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice.

Pingree was the county’s senior human resources generalist starting in August 2008. Job responsibilities included such human-resources functions as employment and retention, compensation, benefits, employ relations and training, the suit says. His suit claims the county fired him on March 8, 2013, leading him to file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on April 6, 2013. The commission gave Pingree a right-to-sue notice on Nov. 19, the suit says.

County Manager Jon Peacock and Attorney John Ely did not respond to messages Friday seeking comment for this story.

Suit: County ignored Pingree’s concerns

Pingree’s relationship with the county soured in the wake of its 2009 hiring of a temporary employee whose job was to perform tax recovery.

The woman was “a qualified individual with a disability,” the suit says. “She was morbidly obese and had a number of related medical issues and surgeries, which substantially limited her major life activities.”

Pingree voiced concerns to the county that the employee had been working 32 hours a week, which qualified her for full-time status and benefits. The county, however, wouldn’t raise her status, the suit alleges.

Pingree had received favorable job-performance reviews from the county until April 2012, when the county gave him a notice that “threatened further disciplinary action, including his termination,” the suit says. Part of the action reprimanded Pingree for his work absences, although he had explained to the county that he had to tend to sick relatives, the suit says.

The notice prompted Pingree to put the county on notice, as well, indicating his concerns about the temporary employee’s status and the county not adhering to the Family Medical Leave Act, which would allow for his work absences, the suit says.

Six weeks after Pingree’s response, the temporary employee was elevated to full time.

“Four months after being made permanent, the employee died and was not able to qualify for life-insurance benefits because she had not been a permanent employee of the county for six months,” the suit says.

In September 2012, Pingree asked to review the county’s handling of the employee who had died.

“Shortly afterwards, Mr. Pingree was terminated by Pitkin County on March 8, 2013,” the suit says.

Pingree’s lawsuit makes six claims for relief: retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, interference under the Family Medical Leave Act, retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act, procedural due process violations and two claims of wrongful termination.

Pingree’s suit seeks back pay, reinstatement of his position, benefits and compensatory and punitive damages, which are awarded on an increased scale.

The suit was filed by Arckey & Associates LLC, a law firm based in Greenwood Village. Name partner Thomas Arckey was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.


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