Another dispatcher files claims for damages

SANDPOINT — A third dispatcher has filed a claim for damages against Bonner County for allegedly allowing a hostile work environment to fester in its 911 call center.

Evie Dougherty alleges in a tort claim that she and other aggrieved dispatchers met with county Commissioner Mike Nielsen last fall in an attempt to address the working environment in the call center, but the effort made the situation more toxic.

Dougherty said in the claim that once directors and supervisors learned of meeting, “the environment worsened substantially.”

Dougherty said supervisors retaliated by segregating her and making disparaging remarks about her.

Supervisors also made punitive changes to her training routines and work shifts, the claim alleges.

The claim was filed on Aug. 13, about four months after former dispatcher Kellie Brownell and senior dispatcher Diana Elsfelder filed strikingly similar claims against the county.

Each of the claims seek $250,000 in damages for lost wages, loss of reputation in the community, and pain and suffering.

Bonner County officials do not comment on pending tort claims, which serve as a notice of intent to sue.

If the county declines to honor the claims, the claimants would be permitted to seek damages in 1st District Court.

County commission meeting agendas suggest an internal investigation into the dispatchers’ allegations was initiated, although the report has not been made public and the board’s discussions were held behind closed doors during executive sessions.

The probe reportedly concluded that most the allegations were unsubstantiated, although supporters of the claimants contend it was biased because it was overseen by the director of the dispatch center.

A common thread in the claims is the turnover rate at the call center, which the claimants contend has been 47 percent for the past four years. They assert that the national turnover rate is fewer than 20 percent and attribute the higher turnover here to a toxic work environment.

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