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Lynette Patterson v. State of Idaho Department of Health & Welfare and John/Jane Does 1

June 29, 2011

LYNETTE PATTERSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE AND JOHN/JANE DOES 1 THROUGH X, WHOSE TRUE IDENTITIES ARE PRESENTLY UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Honorable Michael R. McLaughlin, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Jones, Justice.

2011 Opinion No. 75

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

Lynette Patterson appeals the dismissal of her claims against her former employer for alleged violation of the Idaho Human Rights Act and the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act. We affirm.

I.

Factual and Procedural History

This is a constructive discharge case arising under the Idaho Human Rights Act (IHRA), I.C. § 67-5901 et seq., and the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act (IPPEA), I.C. § 6-2101 et seq. Appellant, Lynette Patterson, argues that she was constructively discharged from her position as the Program Supervisor of the Fraud Unit at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) due to her complaints regarding an intra-office romance between her supervisor, Mond Warren (Warren), and a lateral employee, Lori Stiles (Stiles). Stiles was the Program Supervisor of the Surveillance Utilization and Review Unit (SUR Unit) and Warren was the direct supervisor for both Stiles and Patterson. Patterson made multiple complaints regarding the relationship and favoritism, which she alleges resulted in her first negative performance review with IDHW, culminating in a constructive discharge.

IDHW had an internal policy discouraging intra-office relationships. Its manual provided the following guidance on such relationships:

Cohabitation and Romantic Relationships. Cohabitation of and/or romantic relationships between employees and their supervisors and others holding positions of authority over them is not condoned. If such relationships exist, the disciplinary action such as involuntary transfer may be considered. The possibility of intentional, unintentional or perceived abuse of power should be strongly considered in such relationships.

Patterson's first complaint regarding the affair and preferential treatment came in the fall of 2004. Patterson went to Human Resource (HR) Specialist Bethany Zimmerman (Zimmerman) and told her that Warren and Stiles were having an affair and, as a result of the affair, "Warren was not treating her fairly." As a result of this complaint and others, Zimmerman and Warren's direct supervisor, David Butler (Butler), confronted Stiles, but Stiles denied the existence of the affair. Butler and Zimmerman conducted an interview with Warren who similarly denied the allegation. Two months later, Zimmerman again went to Butler to alert him to ongoing rumors regarding the inappropriate relationship and preferential treatment. Thereafter, Butler and another HR employee questioned Warren about the relationship for a second time, but he again denied the affair. However, several days after this second interview, Warren went to Butler and admitted to having had an intimate relationship with Stiles some five years previously (in approximately 1999 or 2000). The relationship was said to have lasted one year, with sporadic intimate encounters thereafter.

After Warren admitted to the romantic relationship, IDHW Civil Rights Department Manager Heidi Graham (Graham) conducted an investigation regarding the complaints of preferential treatment. Graham interviewed Patterson on December 28, 2004. During the interview, Patterson alleged that the SUR Unit received preferential treatment, including better pay, better equipment, access to evidence rooms, more recognition, and preferential disciplining of subordinate employees. Graham's investigation concluded that Warren and Stiles had engaged in a romantic relationship but also concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegations of preferential treatment. "[A]ny differences complained of by Fraud Unit staff and Ms. Patterson regarding the SUR Unit were either inconsequential, were based on perception and lacked factual bases, were the result of legitimate program needs or were merely territorial rivalries between the two groups."

At the conclusion of the investigation, Employee Relations Manager Monica Young (Young) met with Patterson to discuss the investigation outcome. After explaining Graham's conclusions, Young noted that Patterson was upset that Graham "was lied to and fell for it" and wanted to know where she could complain and I told her she could file a complaint with the Idaho Human Rights Commission or consult with an attorney. She told me she knew she would be retaliated against. . . . . She cut me off before I could finish and said she could talk about [Ms. Stiles and Mr. Warren having an affair] if it was impacting her and other's work and she stormed out of my office.

Because Warren had been dishonest about the relationship, a "Notice of Employment Status" letter was placed in his permanent employee file. This letter indicated that "the work environment in the unit is disruptive, dysfunctional, and laden with mistrust, resentment, and anger." However, Warren retained his position as Bureau Chief, and as the supervisor of both Stiles and Patterson.

In February of 2005, Butler attended a Fraud Unit meeting at Patterson's request, wherein staff voiced concerns regarding the alleged relationship and preferential treatment. The Fraud Unit provided Butler with an "Issues Memorandum" describing the concerns of the unit, and Patterson personally provided Butler with an additional document entitled "Summary of Issues Fraud and Sur Units." After further discussions between Butler and Graham, Butler decided not to re-open the investigation because there were no new allegations raised in the complaints.

Patterson had a performance review in May of 2005, approximately three months after the meeting with Butler, wherein she received "Achieves Performance Standards" but it was noted that she had not completed one performance objective.*fn1 Patterson strenuously objected to the notation and attached a personal explanation to the performance review.

Patterson met with Graham again on May 25, 2005, alleging "that there was retaliation and 'hostility' between the Fraud and SUR Units." Patterson further stated that "things had gotten worse since [Graham's December 2004] investigation had concluded." However, no new investigation resulted from these allegations.

On September 27, 2006, Patterson met with the new Director of IDHW, Richard Armstrong (Armstrong), to discuss her allegations of preferential treatment. Patterson told Armstrong that she "felt discriminated against in that she and the employees in her Fraud unit did not get an equal amount of resources (as the SUR unit) and were not getting the recognition of good work that she felt was being done by the members in the Fraud unit." She also made allegations of unequal pay. Following his meeting with Patterson, Armstrong met separately with Butler and Graham to discuss Patterson's complaints. He met with Patterson again on November 22, 2006, indicating that her concerns had been adequately investigated and, since no new incidents had occurred, he did not intend to reopen the previous investigation.

Approximately four months later, Warren gave Patterson a draft performance evaluation which rated her as "Does Not Achieve Performance Standards." This document specifically identified staff involvement in searches and continued use of deferred prosecution agreements as the basis for the negative review. This document was provided to Patterson on March 16, 2007, via an e-mail in which Warren requested a 2:00 p.m. meeting to discuss the evaluation. Patterson typed a resignation note before attending the afternoon meeting. The note stated, in relevant part:

Please consider this as my resignation from the Department of Health and Welfare Fraud Unit. After 25 ½ years with the state, I can no longer work under these conditions. The work environment has become increasingly hostile over the past few years. Retaliation is becoming unbearable. For health concerns and my own peace of mind, I ...


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