Deschutes DA’s Office lawsuit moves forward

DA answers complaint, says there’s no hostile work environment

Bulletin staff report /

Published Dec 23, 2013 at 12:01AM

Deschutes County and District Attorney Patrick Flaherty have denied claims by a former investigator who alleges she was discriminated against and wrongly fired from her position.

Sharon Sweet filed a lawsuit in federal court in U.S. District Court in Eugene in April, alleging Flaherty “engaged in a pattern and practice of disparate treatment of employees who exercised their right to protected speech” and created a “hostile work environment which amounted to employment discrimination.” She alleges sex and age discrimination, as well as retaliation for filing a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

She has since filed two amended complaints, the most recent in November. The state of Oregon has been dismissed from the lawsuit, leaving Flaherty and the county as the remaining defendants.

Last month, Flaherty fired back in an answer to the amended complaint. In the answer, Flaherty notes that more than 70 percent of his employees are female, including the bulk of the office’s management.

“(Sweet) was not discriminated against or treated disparately; the work environment in the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office was not ‘hostile’; and to the best of Flaherty’s information and belief, prior to her position being eliminated, (Sweet) did not complain about the working environment in the District Attorney’s Office,” Flaherty’s attorney Keith Bauer writes in the answer. “Deschutes County investigated her claims of employment discrimination based upon age, sex and ‘whistleblowing’ and concluded her claims were unfounded.”

Flaherty denies the bulk of the lawsuit, saying Sweet’s work was not “consistently above expectations” during the time she worked for him and that she violated personnel rules by not disclosing a romantic relationship with another investigator in the office, who is now her husband.

He further notes in the answer that he sent a letter to Sweet in January 2012, several months after she was fired, that alleged she had entered the office without authorization and was “making false accusations” about his office.

Flaherty’s answer asks the court to dismiss Sweet’s complaint.

Deschutes County, meanwhile, also denies the allegations and suggests the county’s employment actions involving Sweet were not discriminatory. The county also states in its answer that if it is found at fault, Flaherty is primarily responsible and the county’s liability should be reduced. It also asks that Flaherty be required to pay the county’s attorney fees.