Cass County: Sheriff's office employee to receive $87,500 in settlement
Cass County agreed to pay $87,500 to settle a lawsuit claiming discrimination filed by a sheriff's office employee. The details of a settlement agreement between Mary Tennis and defendants Cass County and Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch became publ...
Cass County agreed to pay $87,500 to settle a lawsuit claiming discrimination filed by a sheriff's office employee.
The details of a settlement agreement between Mary Tennis and defendants Cass County and Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch became public Monday. In the agreement, the defendants made no admission of liability but agreed to the monetary settlement.
Of the $87,500, $38,500 will go to Nichols Kaster, the law firm employed by Tennis, as compensation for attorneys' fees and costs. The rest goes to Tennis, including $36,750 as compensation for alleged emotional distress damages and $12,250 as compensation for alleged wage loss.
The lawsuit alleged the sheriff abused his position to retaliate against Tennis, a longtime employee who is also the wife of a former political rival. The suit went on to allege Tennis was denied promotions and ultimately demoted because her husband, Wayne Tennis, ran against Burch for sheriff. The civil complaint detailed a series of retaliatory actions Tennis claimed were taken by Burch beginning in 2011, when he assumed office after defeating Wayne Tennis and two other candidates.
These actions, the suit alleged, violated Mary Tennis' First Amendment rights and constituted discrimination based on her marital status under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Tennis also sought damages because private personnel data about her was allegedly shared with co-workers, a violation of state law.
The Cass County Board approved the settlement at a board meeting earlier this month, and the details became public after Tennis agreed to the terms. Upon agreement, Tennis' last day in the sheriff's office was May 19, with her retirement effective that same day. Tennis will be paid her accrued vacation time according to her collective bargaining agreement and will retain rights relating to the continuation of her lifetime health insurance benefits.
As part of the lawsuit, Tennis originally sought all relief available through state and federal law in excess of $50,000, including damages for lost income, lost benefits, mental anguish and emotional distress. She also sought punitive damages against Burch and a court order requiring Cass County give her the option of returning to her former position.
In a response prior to settlement, Burch and Cass County denied almost all the claims made by Tennis.
"Any and all decisions and actions taken with regard to plaintiff (Tennis) and her employment with defendant Cass County were the result of legitimate and non-discriminatory actions, were appropriate and justified, and were in no way related to plaintiff's exercise of any protected right or activity or any protected class status," the court document filed on behalf of Burch stated.
Tennis began working for the Cass County Sheriff's Office in 1988 as a corrections officer. In 2003, she was promoted to jail program coordinator, a position she held until August 2015 when she was demoted back to corrections officer. Burch began his full-time career in Cass County in 1987 and was the chief deputy when he announced his candidacy for sheriff in 2010. Burch was elected sheriff in 2010 and again in 2014.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .