The lawyer for a former Columbia County Rural Library District employee said she is writing a lawsuit against the library district, the county and others for $10,000 in damages, and will file it as soon as it’s done.
Jane E. Richards said this week she and her client, Shakira Bye, “recently received a letter from the risk management pool denying our tort claim. Having received that denial, we can now move forward with a lawsuit,” Richards wrote in an email.
Richards in June filed a tort claim for Bye, a former library worker, in Columbia County. The claim — against the library district, board of trustees, each trustee, library director, Columbia County, and Columbia County Board of Commissioners — stated Bye was “wrongfully placed on administrative leave (and later terminated) from her position as library associate after she left a work-related conference.”
Various issues arose with the library district that runs Dayton Memorial Library, according to Richards, between March 2017 and Thursday. Those included violations of the privacy and public disclosure acts, negligent supervision and vicarious liability.
The claim stated “the library director and employees engaged in discriminatory acts and harassing speech that caused claimant to fear reprisal and caused her to leave a work-related conference.” It also claims Bye was sexually harassed at least three times by a patron, after which the library director didn’t do anything about her complaints.
Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney Dale Slack said he is not representing either side in this case so far, but he has been working as a risk manager with the Washington Counties Risk Pool, which investigates and evaluates claims to see if their insurers think they are valid, and whether the county is liable and the claims are covered by insurance.
“We determined that the claim should be denied by the county on the grounds that the County Commissioners cannot be held liable for the library board of trustees’ and director’s alleged wrongdoing because the commissioners are not direct supervisors of the library board or director — they do not have authority to direct day-to-day activities of the library, nor hire and fire the director or trustees at-will,” Slack wrote in an email. “The commissioners are limited by statute to only appointment and removal for-cause of individual library board trustees.”
He added that if a lawsuit was filed against the commissioners, the case would go to attorneys for the Washington Counties Risk Pool and not his office. And, his office didn’t represent the library, as it was a separate, special-purpose taxing district from the rest of the county even though the commissioners could appoint and remove members and the county treasurer collected the library district’s taxes.
The former lawyer representing the library, Ryan Ortuno, said Richards asked if he “would accept service of the tort claim,” he wrote in an email. “However, my office was no longer representing the library district with respect to Ms. Bye’s claims at that time. I informed Ms. Richards she needed to serve the district directly.”
The claim was served to the library board of trustees at its meeting on June 17, according to Tanya Patton, board of trustees chairwoman. She said attorneys for their insurance company, Enduris, “were handling everything.”
“I won’t even comment on that,” she said of the case.