Freeborn County worker blames firing on retribution, bias

Did frank feedback about a boss’s shortcomings lead to a government worker’s firing? That’s what Rose Olmsted claims in a lawsuit she filed against the Freeborn County Com­­missioners and the county’s director of human services.

Olmsted’s suit also alleges that the county discriminated against her based on her age and gender, in vio­­lation of the federal Age Discrimi­­na­­­­tion in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Minne­­sota Human Rights Act.

She had worked for Freeborn County for 38 years when she was fired from her job as supervisor of the county’s Crime Victims Crisis Cen­­ter in October 2011. She also oversaw Freeborn’s Domestic Abuse Pre­­ven­­tion Program and Crisis Response Team.

The county has said her position was eliminated following the state government shutdown in June 2011 because the services she oversees are not mandatory. The choice to ax her position, county officials contend, had to be made in light of budget shortfalls.

But Olmsted says the shutdown was just a ruse to get rid of her. Her lawsuit cites disparaging remarks allegedly made by Human Services Director Brian Buhmann concerning the quality of her work.

She contends the real reason dates to the spring of 2011 when the county required her to participate in a consultation about staff morale and Buhmann’s management practices. During the session, she expressed concerns about Buhmann’s management and his disdain for her, her volunteers and the crisis services.

Olmsted’s attorney claims that Buhmann became “overtly hostile” to Olmsted after he learned about her comments and targeted her and her programs for elimination.

Note: Thoughtless comments about an employee’s race, gender or age can build a case where none would otherwise exist. Workplaces can be politically charged places—and employees’ attorneys are often eager to portray careless comments as bigoted statements.

Train supervisors to avoid political land mines by evaluating employees solely on objective job performance standards.