County settles religious discrimination suit

Technical Services insurance company agrees to pay former county employee $15K

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At a glance

• Penny Doolin, a former Moffat County parks and recreation employee, filed a wrongful termination suit against Moffat County on June 16, 2008, with the U.S. District Court in Denver.

• Doolin's lawsuit claimed she was fired because she told county officials that her supervisor, Tammy Seela, parks and recreation department manager, ran a "religiously hostile work environment."

• A complaint filed by Doolin's attorneys also stated a second former Moffat County employee complained to county officials about Seela's behavior after he transferred to the road and bridge department.

• The Moffat County Commission agreed to settle with Doolin for $15,000, which the county's insurance company will pay.

About nine months ago, Penny Doolin, a former Moffat County Parks and Recreation employee, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Denver's U.S. District Court citing religious persecution.

On Tuesday, the Moffat County Commission agreed to settle the case for $15,000, but its members did not concede any wrongdoing by any county official.

Officials said the county's insurance company, County Technical Services, made the decision to settle and will pay the costs.

Commissioners Audrey Danner and Tom Gray voted in favor of the settlement after an executive session with County Attorney Kathleen Taylor. Commissioner Tom Mathers was absent.

Gray and Danner said their decision was in "no way" an admission of guilt on the county's part and said they did not think the allegations made against Moffat County were true.

"Moffat County does not admit any liability, and on the contrary expressly denies the same," Danner read from the settlement agreement.

Doolin filed her original complaint June 16, 2008, with the U.S. District Court in Denver.

According to the complaint, Doolin contends she was fired Feb. 28, 2007, because she complained about "religious overtures" from her direct supervisor, Tammy Seela, county parks and recreation department manager.

Doolin had worked for the county since 1988.

In her complaint, Doolin states Seela approached her in March 2006 at work and questioned her "in an aggressive manner" about her religious practices and beliefs.

Seela did not return messages left on her office and cell phones.

Doolin had no comment for this article.

The complaint goes on to read that Seela "made it clear" Doolin's beliefs were wrong or inappropriate. It further states Seela's behavior toward Doolin deteriorated, as did her conditions at work.

Doolin, according to the complaint, first notified the county about her situation Feb. 27, 2007, the day before she was fired.

She also contended in the complaint that she was not the only parks and recreation department employee to tell county officials about Seela's alleged behavior.

The complaint states David Stark, who worked under Seela in parks and recreation before transferring to the road and bridge department, met with county Human Resources Director Lynnette Running on Feb. 26 - the day before Doolin's meeting - about Seela's "religious harassment."

At the time, Stark already had been transferred to the road and bridge department and no longer was under Seela's supervision.

Stark no longer works for road and bridge and could not be reached for comment.

Doolin's complaint also asserts the only corrective action taken against her was a written warning from Seela for unauthorized absences, charges which Doolin denied.

According to the complaint, Seela gave her the warning immediately before her scheduled appointment with Running, where she planned to discuss a "religiously hostile work environment."

The complaint then states that Running phoned Doolin a few hours after their Feb. 27 meeting to schedule a second meeting the following day.

Doolin called Running on Feb. 28 to say she could not make the meeting. Running fired her via the phone.

In the county's response to the court, officials denied all allegations about Seela approaching Doolin to discuss religion and denied that Doolin discussed religious persecution with Running the day before she was fired.

The response admits Stark told Running that Seela engaged in religious-based conversations, but it denies he characterized them as "religious harassment."

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