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Fired worker files whistle-blower suit against Grant County

An employee says he was fired after reporting illegal chat in a hiring meeting.
Scotta Callister

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on September 30, 2014 9:01AM

James Gravley

Contributed photo

James Gravley

CANYON CITY – A Grant County employee reviewing job applications as part of a county team applied a vulgar term for lesbian to one applicant, who subsequently wasn’t considered for the job.

County Judge Scott Myers, in a letter responding to a complaint about the incident, later denied the applicant had been called a “dyke,” a derogatory term for lesbians.

Instead, Myers clarified, the employee used a different, more vulgar phrase. “She has since apologized,” Myers said.

The crude reference became public as the county defends itself against allegations by another employee that he was fired for blowing the whistle on discriminatory talk in the Dec. 9 application review meeting. Under state law, it is illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation.

Myers admitted the slur in an April 28 letter to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Civil Rights Division, which was investigating a complaint filed last spring by James N. Gravley, then a parole and probation officer the County Corrections Department. Gravley, who had worked for Grant County since October 2012, was fired June 18.

Myers, in his letter, confirms that Gravley, two other Community Corrections employees and their supervisor Dean Hoodenpyl discussed the applicant. He said that although Hoodenpyl heard an employee use the vulgar term, “he did not process at the time what it meant.”

Myers said Hoodenpyl later gave the two other workers verbal warnings as a result of the incident.

BOLI has not issued a final order in the complaint, but records obtained by the Eagle show the agency notified the parties July 23 that it found “substantial evidence” supporting allegations the county discriminated against Gravley after the meeting.

“A reasonable person could conclude that complainant presented substantial evidence that respondent subjected him to scrutiny and disciplined him based on reporting a legal violation,” according to the BOLI notice.

BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr said last week an initial complaint about work conditions was unfounded, but Gravley’s amended complaint regarding the fallout from the Dec. 9 meeting is still open.

Under state law, the agency’s next step is to seek a settlement through informal conciliation between the parties.

Meanwhile, Gravley has filed a federal lawsuit claiming he was fired for blowing the whistle on illegal conduct. His attorney, Matthew C. Ellis, filed the suit Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court in Pendleton.

Named as defendants are Grant County, Myers, Hoodenpyl, and County Clerk Brenda Percy, who is the county’s personnel officer.

The filing outlines six claims that he has suffered loss of wages and benefits, emotional distress, and injury to his reputation. He seeks at least $800,000.

Like the BOLI complaint, his lawsuit contends he was singled out for discipline and increased scrutiny after he blew the whistle on discriminatory conduct, complaining to Hoodenpyl about comments made by others during the job applicant discussion.

Myers and Percy were not at the 2013 applicant review meeting, but participated in the later discipline, according to the timeline from the lawsuit.

“Defendants began micromanaging and second guessing plaintiff’s field work, his use of firearms, and his interactions with Oregon State Police,” the complaint says. It contends that such concerns before Dec. 9 were “minimal or non-existent.”

On May 2, Myers and Percy issued a “last chance agreement” to Gravley that the lawsuit contends “mostly covered areas that plaintiff had never been disciplined or counseled on previously.”

Gravley contends scrutiny of his past work intensified after he complained to BOLI, and that this entailed treatment different from that accorded to other workers.

“Employees who did not oppose sex or sexual orientation discrimination, who did not file claims with BOLI or the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), and who did not complain of unsafe work practices were not subject to the same or similar scrutiny as plaintiff,” the lawsuit says.

The county was served with the lawsuit about Sept. 22 and has 21 days to file a response.

Myers declined to comment in detail, but said the county has acted on advice of its insurer, Citycounty Insurance Services.

His letter in the BOLI case outlined the county’s position at that time, contending that Gravley was disciplined for foul language, exceeding his role as a probation officer, and ignoring “multiple directives from his supervisor” to stop getting involved in law enforcement activities.

In response, BOLI said the county wasn’t able to produce evidence that officials were as concerned with or critical of those issues before the Dec. 9 meeting.

The agency said the record didn’t support all of Gravley’s claims, but concluded there was substantial evidence of an unlawful employment practice in applying different terms, conditions and discipline.

Myers said he didn’t think the complaint was investigated well.

“We are not going to roll over,” he said.


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