Former Devils Lake jail admin files federal lawsuit claiming gender discrimination
DEVILS LAKE, N.D.—A former Devils Lake jail administrator claims in a federal lawsuit she was fired because she was a woman and that board members threatened others with dismissal if they didn't oust her.
Denny Deegan is suing the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center, claiming she was wrongfully fired in August 2014 as the jail's operations director. It's been a year since the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights ruled LEC leadership discriminated against Deegan because of her gender as they voted to dismiss her.
At the heart of the lawsuit is a claim that LEC Board member Ed Brown, a Ramsey County commissioner, said "we need a man to run this place" during an Aug. 20, 2014, meeting. Deegan was on approved sick leave during the meeting, but the board voted 5-3 to fire Deegan, citing "a huge help turnover," money and overtime issues, and poor performance.
Those statements were false, said Tanya Wieler, a former human resources consultant for the LEC. The Labor Department found Deegan was qualified and was performing her work in a satisfactory way.
State agents were "unable to hear Commissioner Brown make the alleged comment," but Wieler said she discussed the inappropriateness of the comment with Brown, other board members and LEC attorney Howard Swanson.
The federal lawsuit highlights these claims and alleges board members "sought to change the outcome (of previous votes to dismiss Deegan) by threatening to replace board members who would not vote to terminate (her)."
"As a result of the threats, one or more ... members did not attend the Aug. 20 meeting and were replaced by alternates who agreed to vote in favor of the plaintiff's termination," the complaint said.
Former Ramsey County Commissioner Bill Mertens was replaced by his commission with Brown because he refused to vote for Deegan's firing, the lawsuit claims.
The LEC hired Tom Rime to replace Deegan, who, according to her complaint, was the first and last woman to lead the LEC since it opened.
Court documents indicate mediation could be used to resolve the case, though previous attempts have failed, attorneys for Deegan previously told the Herald.
"I don't think it is likely at this point," Steven Andrew Smith, a Minneapolis attorney representing Deegan, said of the possibility that the case will be settled through mediation.
LEC Board members and Swanson previously have declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. Swanson did not return a request for comment on this story.
The next court date a status conference set for Jan. 10.
The LEC, which serves Devils Lake and the counties of Ramsey, Benson, Towner, Eddy and Nelson, denies all allegations, saying it acted in good faith.