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Former Jefferson Co. administrator suing commissioners

Leslie Smith's suit alleges that all five commissioners violated her rights, discriminated against her on the basis of sex and a

September 29, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

The longtime Jefferson County administrator fired in September 2009 on a 3-2 vote by the county commissioners this week filed an eight-count civil suit claiming discrimination, human rights violations and wrongful discharge, according to the suit filed in the Jefferson County Circuit Clerk's office.

Leslie Smith's suit alleges that all five commissioners violated her rights, discriminated against her on the basis of sex and age, harassed her and broke her work contract, and accuses them of retaliatory discharge and violating the state's wage payment and collection act in firing her Sept. 24 during an open commission meeting.

Her termination became effective Oct. 24, 2009.

Attorney Peter Chakmakian of Jefferson County filed the suit on Smith's behalf. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Smith declined to comment.

The suit alleges that all five commissioners were "responsible for the decision" to terminate Smith.

Commissioners Jim Surkamp, Frances Morgan and Carolyn (Lyn) Widmyer voted to fire Smith on claims of incompetence, the suit said. Dale Manuel, commissioners president at the time, and Commissioner Patsy Noland voted to keep her in the position.

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Manuel said Wednesday he and Noland are named as defendants because "the county commissioners are being sued as a body."

Widmyer, the current commissioners president, declined to comment Wednesday.

Manuel said shortly after Smith's termination that he expected a lawsuit to follow.

"There's no surprise in this suit," he said Wednesday. "We knew it was coming."

Smith is seeking past and future lost wages, post-judgment interest, punitive damages and attorney's fees. She has asked for a jury trial.

The suit did not call for any specific monetary amount.

Smith was earning an annual salary of about $95,000 when she was fired. She worked for the county since 1991, according to the suit.

The suit singles out Surkamp, Morgan and Widmyer for harassing Smith.

Ever since Surkamp took office in January 2005 he "began a hostile course of wrongful conduct ... designed to belittle Smith's abilities," the suit said. Morgan, since she came to the commission in January, 2007, followed a similar course of action of "constant and unrelenting public and private criticism" against Smith, according to the suit. She and Surkamp began a private and public movement of constant emotional and (on three occasions) physical beratement of Smith and advocated her termination, the suit said.

Widmyer was sworn in in January 2009 and began adding tasks to Smith and her staff, according to the suit.

The commissioners "conduct was outrageous and intolerable in that it offends against the generally accepted standard of decency, morality and fair dealing," the suit said.

Smith declined a settlement offer in December.

The commissioners hired Sandra Slusher McDonald, a clerk in Smith's office, as interim administrator.

In March, the commissioners hired Tim Boyde, a county administrator from Pennsylvania, to manage the county, its 185 employees and $20 million budget. Boyde, chosen from a field of 40 applicants, earns $90,000 a year.

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