January 31, 2019
Walla Walla, WA
Today a twelve-member Walla Walla jury awarded Linda Robb, the former Human Services Administrator for the Benton and Franklin Counties Department of Human Services, $1,561,320 in damages for whistleblower retaliation.
The evidence produced at trial showed that through the winter of 2014, Benton County Commissioner Shon Small was in talks with Barbara Mead, the then head of Lourdes, about giving the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) to Lourdes. At the time, the CRU was a county department under Human Services, that provided assistance to persons in need of mental health services, and made referrals to inpatient facilities for those who need that level of care. Ms. Robb, as head of Human Services, was in charge of the CRU and was responsible for guiding its future. Commissioner Small kept those discussions with Ms. Mead from Ms. Robb, and ordered her subordinates and the Benton County administration to not tell Ms. Robb what he was doing.
In March, 2015, Ms. Robb learned from two subordinates that Small was working to give the CRU to Lourdes. Upon learning this, she gave two presentations to the Commissioners and another to the public outlining the potential for a conflict of interest if the same company that has the CRU also has the inpatient beds. The risk would be that the company would funnel patients, not for medical reasons, from the CRU to fill empty inpatient beds.
At trial, Mr. Robb testified that from that point forward, Small retaliated against her. At one point Small said to her:
“you don’t need to explain anything to me… as far as I am concerned you are a pathetic liar and human being and I will never trust anything you say. You are a miserable liar and person and I do not want to ever see or listen to you again.”
Small then bragged about his statement to the other commissioners and to Ms. Mead (in an email).
Ms. Robb reported Small’s conduct to Janet Taylor, who was the Franklin County Human Resources Director at the time. She began a hostile work environment investigation focused on Small. At trial, plaintiff argued that once Benton County found out about the Taylor investigation they worked to fire Ms. Robb. She was sent home on administrative leave and then fired. Both actions were covered in the local media. No investigation into Small’s conduct was ever completed. Ms. Taylor was removed from her position by the Franklin County Board before she could complete the investigation. Ms. Taylor testified that she was told that she was removed because Benton County wanted her removed. When Ms. Robb was terminated and Ms. Taylor was removed from her position, Ms. Taylor testified that she gave Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant 600 pages of documents and a timeline (as an electronic file) outlining the facts related to the Robb harassment complaint against Small and in rebuttal to Benton County’s decision to terminate Ms. Robb. Mr. Sant testified that he never got it. The 600-page document was never used to complete the investigation into Small’s alleged misconduct. The document was produced by Franklin County during the litigation and was admitted as an exhibit at trial.
Ms. Robb testified that she brought her concerns about Small to Benton County Commissioner Beaver, who initially suggested that Small, who was the Benton County Commissioner assigned to oversee Human Services, could be reassigned to another task to solve the problem, but he quickly withdrew that suggestion in an email. Beaver voted to send Ms. Robb on administrative leave for alleged “misconducts,” which were never identified, and he also voted for Ms. Robb’s termination.
Benton County Commissioner Delvin also voted to send Ms. Robb on administrative leave for alleged “misconducts,” and he also voted for Ms. Robb’s termination. Delvin became the Commissioners’ spokesperson in newspaper articles that covered Ms. Robb’s being sent on administrative leave and covered her termination. Ms. Robb and Commissioner Delvin were named in both articles.
Franklin County Commissioners Koch and Miller voted in favor of Ms. Robb’s termination (they were not consulted by Benton County regarding sending Ms. Robb on administrative leave). Only Commissioner Peck voted against her termination.
Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing Ms. Robb said, “Justice was done. This case revealed the terrible reality that the county commissioners are not accountable for their actions. Small can say or do anything to the Benton County staff and can have them terminated on a whim, but unlike a corporate executive, he can’t be fired. He can’t be counseled, and he can’t be suspended.” “Ms. Robb’s staff betrayed her because Small told them to do so, and because they feared for their jobs.”
He said, “Linda Robb has been vindicated. The courthouse and the ballot box are the only two places the People can hold these commissioners accountable.”