Judge dismisses case against Moffat County

Former worker said Sheriff's Office violated settlement agreement with former employee

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A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a case that alleges the Moffat County Sheriff's Office officials violated a 1997 settlement agreement with a former employee.

Former Moffat County resident Rhonda Behunin filed a lawsuit more than a year ago accusing Moffat County Jail administrator Dean Herndon of giving a poor reference to a prospective employer. Behunin said that Herndon's action was a violation of a settlement agreement between her and the Moffat County Sheriff's Office after she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in 1996.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Lewis Babcock dismissed the

case, because Behunin signed a waiver to allow a prospective employer to contact Herndon.

The 1996 settlement agreement required the Sheriff's Office to provide Behunin with a letter of reference as the only employment information the department was allowed to release. Behunin said that Herndon's statements about her employment history kept her from getting a job in Eddy County in New Mexico.

According to Babcock's ruling, Behunin knowingly signed a waiver that allowed Herndon to comment on her work history.

"There is no 'evidence' of fraud, mistake, illegality or coercion that caused plaintiff to sign the Release of Information Waiver," the judge's ruling reads. "She voluntarily completed the process and signed the waivers willingly. There is no evidence that anyone forced her to sign them."

According to court documents, Eddy County officials twice contacted the Moffat County Sheriff's Office for information about Behunin. Herndon requested a Release of Information Waiver that was returned and signed by Behunin. Based on the information given by Herndon, Behunin was not allowed to interview for a transport officer job, according to the document.

The judge dismissed all five of Behunin's claims.

In addition to Moffat County allegedly breaching the agreement of settlement, claims included that the county retaliated against Behunin by providing the information and defamed Behunin by answering questions about her work history. Behunin's fourth and fifth claims alleged that Moffat County interfered with her ability to get a job in Eddy County, and that Herndon's statements intentionally caused her emotional distress.

Behunin's attorney was unavailable for comment Thursday.

It is unclear whether Behunin will appeal the ruling.

According to the ruling, Moffat County will be reimbursed the cost of defending the case.

"This excellent news for the county," said Moffat County Attorney Kathleen Taylor.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or at ahatten@craigdailypress.com

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