Jun 1, 2021 - News

Polk County settles LGBTQ discrimination lawsuit for $200K

Illustration of a row of gavels, with all but one of them transparent.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Polk County agreed to pay a $200K settlement Tuesday in a discrimination case alleging that a now-fired manager was recorded saying she wasn't offering a gay man a job because of his "extracurricular activities."

Why it matters: Workplace discrimination is illegal, it contributes to low morale and can cost taxpayers and businesses big bucks.

  • The case also raises more questions about whether a toxic workplace environment exists within county government now that several complaints have been filed.

What happened: James Sargent didn't get a job as a medicolegal death investigator (MDI) in 2017 despite meeting professional requirements, landing an interview and being invited to shadow another employee, according to his lawsuit.

  • An audio recording of chief MDI Amanda Luick in 2017 reportedly mocking Sargent's sexuality was discovered by another county employee in January of 2020, the suit says.
  • Soon after the recording surfaced, Luick and Polk County's longtime medical examiner Gregory Schmunk were fired.
  • The county described Schmunk's termination as a lack of oversight "related to ongoing personnel issues."

The latest: Sargent's settlement was unanimously approved with no discussion from supervisors during Monday's meeting.

  • Supervisor Matt McCoy, who's gay, told Axios that they had been briefed by the county's risk management team prior to the meeting, and that the case was clearly a civil rights violation.
  • "The hope is the county took corrective actions and this will never happen again," McCoy said.

Separately: The county's HR director Jim Nahas was fired in January for allegedly mishandling a sexual harassment claim from a female employee against McCoy.

  • McCoy denies the claim, and further accuses another supervisor, Tom Hockensmith, of using a homophobic slur to reference him during a separate incident.
  • Hockensmith denied the accusation to Axios Tuesday, calling it "despicable."

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