A former Sonoma County government worker has sued her ex-employer, claiming she was fired for whistleblowing about her department’s treatment of disabled employees.
Madeleine Jen Kin, 60, a personnel manager in the Human Services Department, is seeking damages that could top $1 million in the suit filed Wednesday in Sonoma County Superior Court.
Jen Kin, whose $90,000-a-year job included handling department discipline and terminations, claims her boss fired disabled employees rather than making reasonable efforts to accommodate them, as required by state and federal law.
In one case, an employee suffering computer-related pain was fired before his specialized office equipment arrived, the lawsuit claims. In another, an employee forced to carry scented dryer sheets to cover up an odor caused by her medication was fired for violating a non- perfume policy, her lawyer said.
When she reported her concerns to the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity coordinator, Taryn Young, Young informed Jen Kin’s boss, Human Services Manager Kiergan Pegg, the suit suggests.
Pegg confronted Jen Kin about being a whistleblower and fired her about three weeks later, just short of completing her one-year probation, the suit said.
“It is outrageous that Sonoma County’s Human Services Department is discriminating against the very population they exist to serve and even more outrageous that they fired an employee who insisted that they treat those individuals fairly,” said Jen Kin’s attorney, Gary Gwilliam, in a written statement.
Pegg did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.
Human Services Director Jerry Dunn said he could not discuss personnel matters because they are confidential. He said the county does not discriminate against disabled people.
“The policy of the county and the departments is to always be looking at reasonable accommodations that will enable us to employ individuals with disabilities,” he said.
Jen Kin was hired by Sonoma County in December 2012 after working for 15 years in a similar job for Los Angeles County. She supervised five payroll employees and two temporary employees.
Her duties included managing payroll, performance and discipline for the department that assists the county’s poor, disabled and elderly.
Almost immediately, she noticed her boss didn’t understand the Americans with Disabilities Act and was not in compliance with it, the suit claims.
She listed three occasions when employees were fired against her recommendation, risking legal action.
Her suit describes meetings with Dunn, Young and county lawyers to discuss potential lawsuits.
At the same time, Jen Kin was told she received passing marks from Pegg on her employee evaluation and was encouraged by Pegg to buy a house in Sonoma County, she claimed.
But she grew more concerned about her boss, the lawsuit said. In one case in August 2013, Pegg told Jen Kin to pretend she wasn’t aware of an employee’s disability and terminate him, the suit said.
While she was on vacation, Pegg took the matter into his own hands, telling the employee he could either retire or get fired, the suit said.
“She reported several times that she didn’t think they were treating employees with disabilities fairly and they told her ‘don’t find an accommodation, fire them,’” said Jen Kin’s co-counsel, Jayme Burns.
More than once, the suit alleges, Jen Kin confided in Young, whose job it was to protect the county’s disabled employees. She said she worried Pegg was exposing the county to discrimination claims but she didn’t want to complain until she passed her probationary period, the suit said.
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