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Former employee sues county

John Colson

A former Pitkin County employee is suing her old boss and the Board of County Commissioners, claiming she was illegally fired after she blew the whistle on her boss for allegedly slacking off during work hours.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Pitkin County District Court by Jennifer Pierce, asks for a jury trial and seeks an award of an unspecified amount of money, as well as her old job back.

Pierce worked as an assistant to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will until, according to the lawsuit, she was fired on Dec. 20, 2000.

According to the lawsuit, from the time that Will started work at his $65,000-a-year job in mid-1999, Pierce observed him engaged in a pattern of “stealing time” while he was supposed to be working.

She claimed that he would go kayaking or skiing during hours when he was supposed to be at the office. In addition, according to the suit, Will regularly came in to work later than she did, between 10 and 11:30 a.m.

The lawsuit also claims Will did not put in for vacation or sick pay in connection with the alleged absences.

Will’s absences, Pierce claimed, made it difficult for her to get her own work done because “she needed regularly to communicate with Defendant Will, her boss.”

Early in 2000, the suit continues, she was asked by the county personnel office to write up an anonymous performance appraisal of Will. She did so and included remarks about his performance “that significantly contributed to the inefficient function of the [office],” as well as her observations about his work schedule, even though she claimed to have expressed “a fear of retaliation by Will.”

Pierce claims that in May 2000, Will went through an evaluation process conducted by members of the BOCC and the Open Space Board, at which her memo was mentioned.

“Although Plaintiff was not mentioned by name by the board members as author of these comments, Plaintiff was the only person who was in a position to have observed Defendant Will’s work on a daily basis, as well as certain other deficiencies in his performance,” the court documents state.

Pierce claims that, in the wake of the evaluation, Will “commenced a systematic pattern of retaliating against” her, starting with failure to prepare her own performance evaluation report in a timely way, which the suit claims “nearly cost Plaintiff the opportunity to receive any annual raise.”

The evaluation, when it was prepared, was “very negative,” the suit continues. Pierce claims that Will was “increasingly hostile” toward her and once “yelled at her for several minutes” and told her “he could not trust her and that he could not work with her.”

According to the suit, Will at one point “constructively demoted” Pierce, making her “essentially a clerical employee” instead of being in charge of the “professional aspects of her duties” outlined in her job description.

When Will fired Pierce on Dec. 20, according to the lawsuit, he gave as one of his reasons the fact that she had reported to members of the Open Space and Trails Board about his work performance.

Pierce could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit, and neither Will nor County Attorney John Ely would say anything about the matter.


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