Idaho just settled another whistleblower case. This one cost the state $545,000.
Cynthia Sewell, Idaho Statesman
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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — A federal trial in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the state of Idaho that was slated to start April 15 has been canceled because the state has settled the case.
Former Idaho Department of Labor purchasing agent James Cryer sued the department in December 2016, claiming the department retaliated against him and fired him for his efforts to stop employees from skirting purchasing rules. He alleged that the department issued a dummy subpoena and obtained his phone records as it hunted for the source of anonymous complaints that included purchasing and hiring violations in the department.
According to a court document filed April 12, the case has been been settled and dismissed.
The Idaho Department of Labor paid half of the $545,000 settlement. The Idaho Department of Administration risk management program paid the other half, according to Diane Blume with the Department of Administration. The state also will pay Cryer’s legal fees, although that amount has not been determined.
In addition to suing the labor department, Cryer also named three department employees in his complaint: Director Ken Edmunds, Deputy Director Jay Engstrom and Chief Technology/Security Officer Mike Kalm. Edmunds abruptly resigned in August 2017; Engstrom retired one month after the lawsuit was filed; and Kalm left the department in November for personal reasons.
Cryer, who worked for the state for more than 20 years before his firing, wrote a public letter this week addressed to new Idaho Gov. Brad Little.
“In December of 2016, I did something I never thought I would do. I sued the state of Idaho for illegally retaliating against me as a whistleblower,” he stated in the letter. “Now, more than two years later, I am pleased that the lawsuit has ended in an agreement that will allow me to move on and begin to put this behind me.”
Cryer stated that although the Department of Labor compensated him for his losses and removed “hurtful things” from his personnel record, he still fears that things have not changed at the department.
Cryer points out in his letter that “there is no place for state employees or the public to report waste or corruption anonymously” and that “agencies have no real authority to ensure compliance with state rules and laws.”
“These gaps leave state employees with little incentive to step forward and agencies with little or no incentive to stop the misconduct,” Cryer wrote. “If you truly want to build the public’s confidence in state government, consider an independent body that can investigate reports, even if anonymous, of waste and corruption. Perhaps if those investigations were provided to the Legislature, agencies would be properly incentivized.”
Cryer stated that he hoped Little will be the governor to change the culture of Idaho’s state government and show support to state employees who want the rules and laws to be followed.
“I cannot speak to the details of this case,” Little said in a statement provided to the Idaho Statesman. “As governor, I am very concerned anytime issues of waste or harassment arise in our state government. I expect state employees to continue to take part in human resource trainings that address discrimination, harassment and whistleblower policies.”
Little said he has directed the Division of Human Resources to provide that training and help state agencies implement best practices concerning these areas.
PAST EMPLOYMENT-RELATED LAWSUITS AGAINST IDAHO AGENCIES
Since 2012, four other employment-related cases against state agencies have resulted in verdicts or settlements totaling $4.1 million:
▪ Idaho Department of Correction: A Boise federal jury on Feb. 14 awarded $1.8 million to Cynthia Fuller, a former Idaho probation and parole employee. Fuller accused Idaho Department of Correction administrators of creating a hostile work environment and causing emotional distress after she accused a co-worker of raping her.
▪ Idaho State Police: An Ada County jury in August 2017 awarded $1.5 million to Brandon Eller, an ISP detective who sued the agency for retaliating against him after he raised concerns about a fatal crash investigation. The state said it could not provide how much it has spent defending the lawsuit because the case is still open while Idaho appeals the award.
▪ State Controller’s Office: Former deputy legal counsel Lourdes Matsumoto filed a tort claim alleging sexual harassment. To avoid a lawsuit, the state settled with Matsumoto for $83,000 in December 2017.
▪ Idaho Transportation Department: Former Director Pam Lowe sued the state for wrongful termination. The state settled the case for $750,000 in 2012. Additionally, the state paid nearly $600,000 to a private law firm that represented it in court.
This article was originally published in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.