Last Friday the Town of Stevensville received a letter from attorney Nathan Wagner, of Datsopoulos, MacDonald & Lind representing former Stevensville Town Clerk Audree Tribbensee, offering to settle Tribbensee’s complaints about bullying and harassment and her subsequent “constructive discharge” for the sum of $500,000. The offer is being made prior to filing any charges and will remain open for 21 days at which time it will be withdrawn.
After outlining Tribbensee’s work experience, the letter notes that upon being hired as Stevensville Town Clerk, “the work environment became hostile almost immediately. The behavior exhibited by the Town Council can only be described as severe, degrading bullying.”
Tribbensee first addressed the council about it on August 13, 2018. There are audio recordings of two council members (Stacie Barker and Bob Michalson) acknowledging the hostile work environment.
As time went on the work environment became more and more miserable, the letter claims. The attacks on Tribbensee and the Mayor of Stevensville were so intimidating, it states, that after three months she filed a formal grievance with the town.
An independent investigation was conducted by a third-party investigator and a final determination was issued which sustained the contents of the grievance, according to Tribbensee’s attorney.
He quotes from the report, “The communication situation in the Stevensville town government could reasonably be characterized as a situation so intolerable that a reasonable person could not be expected to endure it. If one or more individuals on staff decides to leave the Town and sue for constructive discharge, the Town is likely to face significant liability. This intolerable situation must be recognized by both the Council and Mayor to improve their communications with one another and with staff.”
Rather than improve the situation, the attorney claims, the town retaliated against her, “even going so far as to say that they could fire her because of her grievances, filing grievances against her, and calling 911 and filing a report against her in retaliation. Council President Michalson, she claims, ‘even accused her of official misconduct, obstruction, and breach of office – all of which were unfounded and fabricated allegations’.”
“As was foreshadowed by the investigator’s findings in this matter, Ms. Tribbensee has a textbook claim for constructive discharge under the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act,” wrote her attorney. Constructive discharge is voluntary termination of employment by an employee because a situation created by an act or omission of the employer which an objective reasonable person would find so intolerable that voluntary termination is the only reasonable alternative.
The letter describes some of the adverse effects Tribbensee has suffered, including anxiety, depression and feelings of despair.
“She is constantly angry and questions her self-worth due to the comments and behavior of the Town of Stevensville councilmembers,” wrote the attorney.
Her attorney estimates her lost wages over four years, the period allowed by law for successful wrongful discharge claims, to be about $199,680. He would add to this what she spent looking for a new job.
Punitive damages may also be sought, “given the actual malice demonstrated by the Town Council and given the retaliatory nature of their conduct in response to Ms. Tribbensee’s grievances and reporting the Council’s violations of public policy,” the letter states.
In conclusion, they agree to release the Town and its insurers from liability in exchange for the payment of $500,000. The offer will remain open for 21 days, “at which time it will be withdrawn, and we will commence litigation.”