Former CAO files $1 million lawsuit against county
Rhetta Vander Ploeg, Lassen County Counsel, declined to comment on pending litigation, but she said she was confident the county would prevail and the court would make “the right decision.”
Stone named Lassen County and three members of the board of supervisors — District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle, District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman and District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson — in the lawsuit.
Stone alleges the suit is “based on multiple claims arising out of his employment relationship based on numerous wrongful acts including termination without cause, fraudulent inducement of employment contract, wrongful termination based on public policy and violation of Government Code Section 8547, et seq. in that a motivating factor in the decision to terminate the plaintiff was his having protested violations of federal and state law regarding the use of funds belonging to the county or from the federal government for specified purposes … plaintiff seeks damages for past and future economic loses, general damages for emotional distress because of violation of his rights and statutory attorneys’ fees.”
According to Stone’s complaint, he “was terminated for an unlawful reason, i.e. in retaliation for reporting waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law and the misuse of public funds, for which he had been told he was supposed to ‘clean up’ the county finances.”
In addition, Stone alleges he was told “to disobey the law and to not be truthful by stating that the county economic development director (Hanson’s brother-in-law) was doing ‘a fine job and that shortfall in the department was due to the economic downturn.’”
“It’s unfortunate Mr. Stone has chosen to pursue these claims,” said Lassen County Counsel Rick Crabtree in January when Stone presented a claim to the board of supervisors. “Mr. Stone was an at-will employee whose employment was terminated by the board of supervisors complete with six months severance pay. Mr. Stone’s claim has been turned over to the county’s claims administrator for processing.”
The county’s insurance company rejected Stone’s initial damage claim.
On July 13, 2011, after two days of closed session deliberations, the board voted to terminate Stone’s employment contract effective immediately and seek restitution of $5,758 in employee medical health benefits Stone received in error and $2,650 the county paid for a training session and transportation that was not authorized by the board.
At the time of Stone’s firing District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick criticized the board and its decision. Chapman, Pyle and Hanson voted to fire Stone, but Wosick and District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle voted to keep him.
“This was a deliberate effort to fire a guy who was basically blowing the whistle on people, and it just makes you sick to see how sleazy — and sleazy is the best word — this organization runs,” Wosick said at the time. “You get a guy who comes in and has the courage to spotlight the main waste of money, the main waste of public funds, nearly $1 million, and they fire the guy over this, a $2,100 thing and a mistake in his medical benefits? Tom was doing great. Tom was phenomenal.”
Wosick continued, “This board sucks,” and he also predicted Pyle would not be re-elected and Hanson would be recalled.
“These people will suffer the consequences of this stupid decision,” Wosick said.
Pyle won re-election last June and two recall campaigns against Hanson have failed to qualify.
Stone’s court filing contains new allegations — that he was subjected to “religious discrimination” and the defendants interfered with “his family’s right of free speech and association.”
Stone alleges Chapman openly criticized Susanville former city manager “who ran the city’s finances into the ground … as being ‘a damn Mormon.’”
Stone said he did not reveal his religious preference during job interviews and only revealed he was member of the Church of Latter-day Saints after he was asked why he did not consume alcoholic beverages during social functions he attended as part of his job responsibilities.
According to his complaint, Stone alleged, “Supervisor Chapman and others in county government were surprised and implied that the plaintiff had intentionally failed to disclose he was a Mormon, further implying that his religious preference should have been disclosed and further implying that he might not have been hired had supervisor Chapman known of his religious preference.”
Stone also alleges Chapman instructed him that his “wife was too politically active in the Tea Party movement, and that activity was not appropriate for the wife of the CAO.”
Stone alleges his wife “was very active and dedicated to her political convictions” and that he “was expected to curtail his wife’s political activism during the term of his employment. The plaintiff refused to curtail his wife’s political activism, and he was retaliated against by being reprimanded by the supervisors for that activity, and he was threatened and intimidated that plaintiff would not retain his position for so long as his wife was politically active with the Tea Party.”
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