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Benton, Franklin counties must pay $1.5 million to wrongly fired manager, says jury

A Walla Walla jury has awarded $1.5 million to Linda Robb, former administrator for the Benton-Franklin Human Services department, who was fired after less than a year in the job.
A Walla Walla jury has awarded $1.5 million to Linda Robb, former administrator for the Benton-Franklin Human Services department, who was fired after less than a year in the job. Tri-City Herald

A Walla Walla jury has awarded $1.5 million to a former Benton-Franklin Human Services manager who was fired in 2015, less than a year after she was hired.

Linda Robb sued Benton and Franklin counties in 2016, alleging she was wrongly terminated from her bi-county position in retaliation for objecting to plans to privatize the crisis response unit.

She sought attorney fees and lost pay and benefits, medical and other expenses, and damages for the loss of her reputation, loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation.

Robb was hired in 2014, placed on administrative leave the following spring and fired in August 2015 on a 5-1 vote of the two county commissions.

The two-plus week trial began Jan. 14. The jury returned its verdict Thursday, less than a day after closing arguments.

“Linda Robb has been vindicated. The court system and the ballot box are the only two ways to make these commissioners accountable,” Seattle attorney Jack Sheridan said in a statement.

Complaint investigation

During the trial, Sheridan introduced 600 pages of documents gathered after Robb lodged a complaint about abuse by Benton County Commissioner Shon Small with the Franklin County Human Resources Director, Janet Taylor. The investigation apparently stopped when Robb was fired.

Small testified before a jury of eight women and four men, including two alternates, that he called Robb a “compulsive liar” and a “pathetic manager.”

Robb came under fierce criticism by Small after she discovered he had been working with the head of Lourdes to privatize the crisis unit. Small had ordered her employees to keep the information from her.

In court, Small said he was frustrated after Robb told the six commissioners of the two counties that the crisis unit was at risk of closing. Small said it was a “lie” because the counties had millions in reserve to cover any shortfall.

Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck was the only commissioner to oppose firing Robb in 2015.

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Koch, who voted to fire Robb, said he didn’t have enough information to comment on the verdict. Koch said he wasn’t troubled by his vote. Robb was insubordinate for refusing to fire an employee, he said.

Benton County Commissioners Jerome Delvin, Shon Small and Jim Beaver could not be reached late Thursday on their mobile numbers.

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