Court rules for Eagle County in former employee’s lawsuit
Ryan Summerlin December 7, 2012
EAGLE, Colorado – Judge Christine M. Arguello of the Colorado district of U.S. federal court has granted a summary judgment for Eagle County in the case of former sheriff’s deputy Kim Andree.
With that action, the federal court sided with the county and ruled that Andree’s dismissal did not violate her rights.
“The court basically ruled that there was a non-discriminatory reason – budget reduction – for her separation of employment,” said County Attorney Bryan Treu.
Andree filed the federal lawsuit back in 2010 after Sheriff Joe Hoy eliminated her job as part of his department’s required $2 million budget cut. Andree’s claim alleged that her severance was in retaliation after she made an inquiry to the county’s human resources director regarding how to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim.
According to the Nov. 30 summary judgment handed down by Judge Arguello, Hoy was re-elected Sheriff on Nov. 9, 2010 and on Nov. 15, he notified Andree that he was eliminating her position for budgetary reasons. The judgment states that Andree and Hoy had discussed her early retirement prior to her dismissal and that Andree proposed a severance package that included two years of salary, 18 months of insurance benefits and assistance in maintaining her Peace Officer Standards and Training certification and concealed weapons permit. Andree maintained that Hoy “reportedly” agreed to the package and she agreed to continue working until the November 2010 election.
The judgment stated that in August of 2010, Andree sent a list of severance package items to Hoy so it could be forwarded to the county Human Resources Director Lisa Ponder for formal action. In September, Ponder noted the severance package proposal was not in line with other packages the county was offering to employees at that time.
Because of falling property tax and sales tax revenues, Treu noted that in 2010 the county offered early retirement packages to many employees. The early retirement offers were based on years of service and Andree was offered a package that included $54,272 (approximately 24 weeks of pay), an additional 6 percent payment of that amount to her 401K retirement fund and a $20,000 to pay for health insurance coverage. Andree ultimately rejected that package and indicated she was planning to file a lawsuit. The federal judge noted that federal court does not have jurisdiction for Andree’s claims of breach of contract related to the severance discussion and those claims would have to go to Eagle County District Court for resolution.
In issuing the summary judgment related to the discrimination claim, Arguello ruled that Andree’s initial action requesting information regarding an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint did not meet the standard for “protected activity” as required for a finding in her favor. The judge also noted that Andree’s specifically cited Equal Employment Opportunity Commission information request was sent to Ponder, not Hoy, and he was responsible for the ultimate decision to sever her employment.
The judgment noted “Defendant (Hoy) contends that he decided to cut Plaintiff’s (Andree’s) position in particular because his command staff was top heavy; none of the previous personnel reductions had included cuts to his command staff; he did not want to impact the department’s core law enforcement functions of patrol, investigations and detentions; and he felt that Plaintiff’s duties could be more easily absorbed by other staff members. As previously stated, if an employer can offer a legitimate, non discriminatory reasons its actions, the case should be dismissed on summary judgment.”
Following the summary judgment announcement Hoy released a statement saying “Over the last couple of years many people have worked very diligently on this case and their time and effort is greatly appreciated. The Sheriff’s Office wishes Kim Andree nothing but the best in her future endeavors.”