County resolves a civil rights complaint

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Buena Vista County has resolved a legal dispute with an employee who filed charges of harassment, retaliation, and other possible civil rights violations against the county.

In court documents provided by the county attorney's office, the county agreed to increase hourly pay, pay attorney fees, pay $1,000 in compensatory damages, assign employee Sonia Banuelos as second deputy in the motor vehicle division of the county treasurer's office, and to strike any disciplinary action from January to June of 2018 from the employee's personnel file.

Assistant Buena Vista County attorney Paul Allen said that the county was contacted by Banuelos' attorney on April 16 this year regarding allegations of retaliation. Allen said that the alleged retaliation centered around disciplinary action, a demotion and reduction of pay.

While Allen could not go into detail on the motivations behind Banuelos' claims, he said the county determined that Treasurer Sherie Elbert had not done anything improper or illegal regarding the employee. "If there hadn't been a settlement, she would have lodged a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission," Allen said. The assistant county attorney said it's the first case like this he has seen in his five years with the county.

"This agreement is executed as a compromise settlement of a disputed claim. The county expressly denies that it has done anything improper in regards to employee's employment," the document reads. The agreement signed by Banuelos releases the county and the treasurer from any further liability, including any claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.

Pay for the employee will be increased to $21.10 per hour, and the county will make up that pay level dating back to March 1. The agreement does not prevent the employee from cooperating with any investigations by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Supervisor Paul Merten said that he is pleased that the disagreement could be handled without going to court, potentially saving the taxpayers money.

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