A former Douglas County jail official is again suing the county for retaliation, alleging that she was forced out of a job after catching her supervisor having sex with a co-worker in a cubicle.
The lawsuit alleges that after reporting the December 2009 incident, Nancy Mullenax was singled out for disciplinary actions and had her position eliminated on the pretext of balancing the department's budget.
An investigating officer, meanwhile, told her she had simply misunderstood what she had seen — that the co-worker was just “brushing something off (the supervisor's) sweater,” according to the lawsuit.
Ray Aranza, Mullenax's lawyer, said command staff at the jail sought to quash the inquiry because the jail was going through an accreditation process, and reporting the incident would have been an embarrassment. As policy administrator, Mullenax was responsible for handling accreditation.
“This is not what you want to have come up when you're in the middle of accreditation,” Aranza said.
The review also coincided with a separate investigation into another personnel matter involving the two people caught having sex, the lawsuit said.
Eventually, Mullenax's complaint was forwarded to the County Human Resources Department, which found evidence of retaliation but not a sexually hostile workplace, according to the lawsuit. Human Resources Director Lee Lazure declined to comment.
Jeffrey Newton, the jail director at the time, submitted a budget that eliminated Mullenax's position, replacing her with a typist. He told Douglas County's finance committee this would save the county $70,400, according to the lawsuit.
But Mullenax had rights under her union contract to take a records technician position at a lower salary. So the savings was actually closer to $10,000 — “a drop in the bucket,” Aranza said.
“They claimed it was a reduction in force,” Aranza said. “It really wasn't — they were out to get her.”
In 2012, Mullenax quit after working 26 years for the county.
Newton, who left the county in 2011, could not be reached for comment. John Hubbard, the deputy director to whom Mullenax first complained, declined to comment. Deputy County Attorney Theresia Urich said Monday that she was reviewing the lawsuit.
Mullenax's first lawsuit, filed in 2011, was tossed after a judge ruled the county's civil service commission didn't have jurisdiction to hear the complaint.
This time, Mullenax obtained a right to sue from the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. A right to sue is issued when the commission does not find cause to pursue a discrimination action, Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission Director Barbara Albers said.
Aranza said the commission's finding is irrelevant because even if it had found evidence of discrimination, it wouldn't have been admitted in court.