By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A former Lewis County employee has filed a lawsuit against the county’s director of public works alleging discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation.
Cyndi Ticknor names Lewis County, its Department of Public Works and its director, Tim Elsea, in the suit filed earlier this month in Lewis County Superior Court.
Ticknor, according to court documents, is the former Lewis County Maintenance and Operations Superintendent, a job from which Elsea demoted her in June of last year.
Her attorney writes she was the first woman to hold the position, and the alleged unprofessional behavior that led to her demotion was similar to conduct condoned by or ignored by superiors when engaged in by male co-workers.
When he disciplined her, Elsea was “well aware many male employees had exhibited similar if not more egregious behavior and not been subject to discipline,” her attorney alleges.
Ticknor, 48, is asking for damages in an amount to be proven at trial.
She didn’t respond to attempts to contact her for comment. Elsea said last week he isn’t in a position to speak about the lawsuit.
Lewis County commissioners have approved a resolution providing Elsea legal representation by a Seattle law firm.
Ticknor’s Olympia attorney Christopher Coker writes in the complaint that prior to the demotion, during her 15-year tenure, Ticknor’s personnel record was impeccable.
According to Coker, Ticknor worked as a senior transportation dispatcher for the county, and through her “hard work and determination” was promoted several times.
In 2002, she was made fleet manager, the first woman to hold the position, and in 2007, promoted to Lewis County maintenance and operations superintendent, also the first female to hold that job, according to Coker.
She worked in a male-dominated environment, often exposed to yelling, profanity and similar behaviors, he writes. She acted in a manner consistent to her male co-workers to fit in and earn their respect, he writes.
“She admits at times her language was strong, but no different than any of her male co-workers,” Coker writes.
Tim Elsea was hired June 1, 2010 as public works director and county engineer.
Elsea said last week Ticknor was on leave when he was hired, and he completed the investigation that led to her demotion.
The document outlines Ticknor’s responses to the demotion as her submission of written responses, which her attorney says resulted in escalating harassment, bullying and retaliation.
After she finally saw a copy of the investigation, she was disturbed by the “baseless and unfounded allegations” against her and last August, she submitted a rebuttal document to the county risk management department, Coker writes.
The lawyer writes that on Sept. 2, Elsea took her out a training session and into a meeting room at the fairgrounds where he “proceeded to intimidate, threaten and verbally abuse” her about her rebuttal. The same day, Elsea followed her to lunch and waited in parking lot, something she thought was meant to further intimidate her, Coker writes.
Ticknor applied for leave, and in October filed a formal complaint with the county alleging retaliation, harassment, age and gender discrimination.
On Nov. 24, 2010, she was terminated
Ticknor’s civil complaint alleges Elsea and the county failed to adequately investigate her allegations, but instead put her on leave and investigated her.
Her attorney claims she suffered damages – including prolonged stress and humiliation – and is asking for compensation for various damages, among them lost wages, benefits and attorney fees.
Elsea is required to file an answer in Lewis County Superior Court to her complaint by the end of the month.