AP NEWS

Columbia County panel mulls harassment complaint, grievance

May 15, 2019

A harassment complaint involving the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office is now entirely in the hands of a state agency, Columbia County Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said Monday.

But the County Board’s Judiciary Committee on Monday unanimously rejected a grievance, filed by a former DA’s office employee.

Both matters were topics of a 90-minute Judiciary Committee closed session Monday.

Supervisor Matt Rohrbeck of Portage, chairman of the panel, said after the closed session that the discussion of the harassment complaint was “informational” only and did not require a committee vote.

The grievance, however, had been sent from the County Board’s Human Resources Committee, with a recommendation to deny the relief being sought.

During the closed session, two unidentified women were called into the room, and loud but undiscernible discussion could be heard through the door. Ruf said the women appeared in relation to the grievance, and not the harassment complaint.

Columbia County’s general employee handbook outlines the procedures for filing grievances – a process that was handled by unions before Act 10, the 2011 state law curtailing most collective bargaining rights for most public employees, took effect.

Grievances are filed by current or former employees who take issue with their dismissals or disciplinary action taken against them. Ruf has said previously that the person who filed the March 10 grievance against the DA’s office is no longer employed by the county.

The county employee handbook requires grievances to be filed within 10 calendar days of the date of the incident on which the grievance is based.

On March 12, the Daily Register published a story stating that two employees of the DA’s office – Marnie Thome, a victim-witness coordinator, and Mary Ellen Karst, an assistant district attorney – were no longer employed in the DA’s office, although the dates and circumstances of their departures were not disclosed then, and have not yet been disclosed. Karst has since returned to the office as an assistant district attorney.

Ruf has not disclosed who filed the grievance or what type of relief (which could include reinstatement or back pay) was sought.

As for the harassment complaint, filed Feb. 26, neither the complainant, the target of the complaint nor the exact nature of the alleged harassment has been disclosed.

Ruf said last week, however, that former District Attorney Tristan Eagon, who resigned April 9 after 88 days, is not the complaint’s target, and that both the complainant and the target continue to work in the DA’s office.

The case was turned over to the state’s Department of Administration for investigation because the target is a state employee, according to Ruf. In the district attorney’s office, the district attorney and assistant district attorney are state employees. Every other worker in the office is a county employee.

Although the complainant is a county employee, the county will no longer have any role in investigating the harassment complaint, Ruf said.

A call to the Department of Administration regarding the status of the harassment complaint investigation, and the options available for addressing the complaint, was not returned Monday.