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Fired administrator sues Benton, Franklin counties for wrongful termination, harassment

Linda Robb, former administrator for Benton-Franklin Human Services, sued the two counties Monday in Walla Walla Superior Court, alleging wrongful termination, harassment and gender-based discrimination.
Linda Robb, former administrator for Benton-Franklin Human Services, sued the two counties Monday in Walla Walla Superior Court, alleging wrongful termination, harassment and gender-based discrimination. Tri-City Herald

A fired administrator is suing Benton and Franklin counties for wrongful termination in a suit that alleges she was mistreated because of her gender.

Linda Robb, former administrator for the Benton-Franklin Human Services Department, is seeking unspecified damages in a suit filed Monday in Walla Walla Superior Court.

She is seeking compensation for back pay, front pay, lost benefits, medical expenses and other expenses related to loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, damage to her reputation, attorney fees and other damages stemming from her 2015 firing.

Robb filed an administrative claim in March, a requirement under Washington law that gives public agencies a 60-day window to negotiate settlements. The commissions of both counties have held multiple executive sessions to discuss undisclosed pending litigation.

Monday’s suit indicates the case has not been settled out of court.

Robb was hired as the bicounty Human Services administrator on July 7, 2014 after a serving for 15 years as clinical director for Catholic Family & Child Services in Richland. She reported to the elected leaders of both counties.

She was fired Aug. 6, 2015, with five of the six county commissioners supporting the termination. Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck cast the lone no vote.

The complaint describes a pattern of escalating harassment and gender-based discrimination, which Robb chiefly attributes to Benton County Commissioner Shon Small, who is now chair of the three-person board.

Neither Small nor Commissioner Jim Beaver could be reached to comment.

Commissioner Jerome Delvin said he had not read the complaint, but noted it was expected.

Delvin was not familiar with a June 2015 incident described in the complaint that involved him, he said. According to the complaint, Beaver told Robb he planned to contact a county attorney to recommend that Human Services oversight be transferred to Delvin from Small.

Beaver told Robb he supported her and wanted to end the conflict, which had resulted in Small convening several executive sessions to discuss Robb, according to the complaint. The transfer never took place.

Delvin said he never heard of the plan to give him oversight of Human Services before being asked about it by the Herald..

“Let it play out in court,” he said.

Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The next step in the case is for each county to file a response to the lawsuit, followed by a fact-finding period. Jack Sheridan, the Seattle attorney representing Robb, expects to try the case before a jury in 2017.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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