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Costs mount in county investigations

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By Carol A. Clark

Aside from the obvious human toll, investigations into employee complaints lodged against Los Alamos County have made a financial impact on the community.

In the last five years, the county has undertaken at least six investigations into allegations of gender bias, harassment and a possible hostile work environment.

The financial exposure to the county from these types of investigations is substantial. But Los Alamos County is insured through the New Mexico Municipal League, a nonprofit association that administers the New Mexico Self Insurers’ Fund, which offers general liability to municipalities. Ed Zendel is the organization’s risk services director. He could not be reached for comment as to the status of Los Alamos County because he is at a mediation hearing until Monday.

County Chief Financial Officer Steve Lynne is in the process of gathering the costs for each of the six probes. He was able to readily gather the costs on one of those investigations in time for publication in today’s edition of the Monitor.

“The one Hofer investigation conducted by Slease and Martinez, P.A., cost $6,251,” Lynne said.

The Hofer case actually resulted in two independent investigations into complaints of sex discrimination filed by former county human resources manager Sheryl Hofer. The investigations took five months to complete, ended up before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and were settled on March 3.

The county is currently in the midst of at least two harassment-based investigations. The most recently filed case is in its seventh week and involves charges lodged by Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan against County Administrator Tony Mortillaro.

Community Services Department Director Stephanie Johnson’s harassment case has been underway for a few months and is approaching a hearing date with the EEOC.

Two independent investigations also were conducted in 2007 into harassment allegations lodged by a Hispanic male at the Consolidated Dispatch Center. The man who sparked the CDC probe left his employment a short time later. Harassment issues were identified and addressed within that department, according to a report obtained by the Monitor.

The second 2007 investigation looked into whether former county attorney Peter Dwyer created a hostile work environment. The Dwyer case resulted in an expression of concern by the investigator of possible gender bias. Dwyer left his employment with the county a few weeks following the conclusion of that investigation.

Watch for more details on this still unfolding story only in the Los Alamos Monitor.