The Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission last week ruled that Richardson County Sheriff Don Pounds did not violate state law when he let go of two employees upon taking office in January 2015.
Former part-time jailer/dispatcher Julie Houser, the wife of Pounds’ predecessor, Randy Houser, and former jail administrator Dave Clark filed discrimination complaints with the Commission after their respective dismissals. Mrs. Houser alleged discrimination based on her age and marriage to the former sheriff; Clark said he was discriminated against on the basis of sex, religion and for being a “whistle-blower.”
Both were left go when Sheriff Pounds took office. The County Board subsequently held grievance hearings the following month.
During the hearings with commissioners a year ago, Pounds told Clark he was dismissed for creating a hostile work environment and because he (Pounds) was informed that Clark had been cooking meals for inmates “against the Health Department rules and regulations.” Sheriff Pounds also said three employees had approached him about adverse working conditions as they pertained to Clark.
Sheriff Pounds defeated Randy Houser in the 2014 primary election and that, according to Mrs. Houser, was a primary reason she wasn’t retained. The other, she contended, was her age. She was replaced by a younger employee with “no background in law enforcement, no training and who has never worked in a jail,” Mrs. Houser said at the hearing.
Pounds said Mrs. Houser never turned in an application for employment under his administration. Houser stated that she never had a chance to turn in an application because the positions were filled before she had a chance to.
The Board later upheld Clark’s dismissal and ruled that Mrs. Houser remained an official part-time employee of the Sheriff’s Office and could be called upon to work. Her services, however, have yet to be summoned by the current Sheriff.
Under state law, elected county officials have the power to terminate their employees.
“The elected county officials have the right of control and supervision over the work, the power to direct the manner in which the work is to be done, and to determine the result to be accomplished by the people working in their office,” former Nebraska Attorney General Paul Douglas wrote in a 1982 opinion.