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Fired administrator alleges Benton, Franklin counties harassed, discriminated

Linda Robb, former administrative services director for the Benton-Franklin Department of Human Services, filed an administrative claim with both counties seeking damages for alleged wrongful termination.
Linda Robb, former administrative services director for the Benton-Franklin Department of Human Services, filed an administrative claim with both counties seeking damages for alleged wrongful termination. Tri-City Herald

Benton and Franklin counties face a whistleblower complaint by a former human services administrator who claims she was wrongfully terminated because she opposed privatizing the Crisis Response Unit.

Linda Robb filed administrative claims against the counties Friday. She asserts that she was harassed and discriminated against in the course of her work at the bicounty Department of Human Services.

In her most damning charge, Robb claims she was harassed and discriminated against by Benton County Commissioner Shon Small.

She claims at least three high-ranking county employees — Benton County Administrator David Sparks, Deputy Administrator Loretta Smith-Kelty and Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller — shared observations about Small’s allegedly dismissive attitude toward women.

After one encounter, she said Sparks told her, “Small can be mean to strong women like you.”

Robb’s Seattle attorney Jack Sheridan said the employees were not alerted that they would be identified in the claim before it was filed.

“It would be against the law if anybody retaliates against those people. They would have legal recourse,” Sheridan said.

Linda Robb alleges she was the victim of an increasingly hostile workplace, sex discrimination and age discrimination. She claims the conflict arose from her opposition to privatize the bicounty Crisis Response Unit.

Small said Friday that he was disappointed after being told by the Herald about the allegations, but he said he had not yet seen Robb’s claim.

“I know Benton County and Franklin County do things properly,” Small said.

The claim alleges Robb was the victim of an increasingly hostile workplace, sex discrimination and age discrimination.

She said the conflict arose from her opposition to privatize the bicounty Crisis Response Unit, and that a similar move 20 years earlier resulted in substandard services in the two counties when one provider, Lourdes, was selected.

Sheridan said Robb’s whistleblower claim stems from her effort to remind the commissioners of the counties about past problems with privatization.

Explanations will come out later, and reasons and all that.

Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller

Robb details numerous instances of miscommunication and mixed messages associated with serving separate boards of commissioners.

She wrote that Franklin County commissioners were supportive. She claims Franklin County Commission Chairman Rick Miller complimented her work and wondered why she was being excluded from Crisis Response discussions.

Much of the claim is devoted to allegations of conflict involving Small and remarks she attributes to colleagues that could not be independently verified.

She claims Small accused her during a May 19, 2015, board meeting of failing to keep him informed about issues surrounding the detox program. When she attempted to discuss the situation, he called her a “pathetic liar” and expressed a desire to never see her again, she said.

Robb was placed on paid administrative leave July 16, 2015, after months of deteriorating relations with Small, according to documents filed Friday. She was terminated Aug. 16 after working for the department about 13 months.

Robb is looking for work and will not comment publicly, her attorney said.

Under state law, Linda Robb must wait 60 days after filing her administrative claim to file a lawsuit in Superior Court. She’s seeking legal fees and undisclosed damages for lost pay, loss of promotional opportunities, lost benefits and retirement and emotional harm.

Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson was not available to respond to the claim Friday. Commissioner Rick Miller said he had not seen it and had no formal statement.

“Explanations will come out later, and reasons and all that,” he predicted.

Robb is seeking legal fees and undisclosed damages for lost pay, loss of promotional opportunities, lost benefits and retirement and emotional harm. Under state law, she must wait 60 days after her administrative claim before filing a lawsuit.

Sheridan said that if Robb is unable to reach a settlement with the counties during the 60-day period, she will sue in Superior Court, possibly in a neighboring county to avoid any conflicts of interest.

The claim and associated documents are posted online: bit.ly/LindaRobbClaim

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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