Clackamas County sheriff's corrections deputy Rich Sneath is suing the county for discrimination, claiming he was harassed and ridiculed because he is Jewish.
Sneaths lawsuit, filed June 24 in Portlands U.S. District Court, seeks at least $500,000 from the county because he claims sheriff's office co-workers and supervisors subjected him to anti-Semitic comments and wrote disparaging things about him in Facebook posts.
Sgt. Nate Thompson, a spokesperson for the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office, confirmed that Sherwood resident Sneath works at the Clackamas County Jail, but said the office had not been notified of the lawsuit. Thompson added that the office cant comment on pending litigation.
The Clackamas Office of County Counsel also declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Portland attorney David Hollander, who represents Sneath, says the trouble began when Sneath made a whistleblower complaint in November 2012. Hollander declined to specify the nature of the original complaint.
However, in a complaint filed Oct. 11, 2013 with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, Sneath, who is vice president of the union, describes an incident in which he represented a union member during a disciplinary hearing about a lack of jail checks.
"As part of that mitigation, I presented information that this non-conformance was a system wide problem," Sneath wrote in his complaint. "This led to an investigation of other deputies and system-wide changes in policy which were unpopular."
Sneath claims that afterward his officemates and supervisors began calling him a "rat," and retaliating against him during and after work hours in a private Facebook group, making alleged comments such as Looks like Hitler missed one.
According to Hollander, Sneath is one of only a handful of Jewish people employed by the sheriffs office (the county does not have records on employees' religion).
In his lawsuit, Sneath alleges that such anti-Semitic comments were repeated in the workplace and that Undersheriff David Kirby, his supervisor, was aware of the comments by Jan. 22, 2013.
The lawsuit claims that the county did not conduct an investigation into Sneaths complaints until April 2013 when rhetoric began to escalate. A co-worker is accused of saying things like substituting Jew for you when referring to Sneath, and saying Happy Holocaust Appreciation Day for Holocaust Remembrance Day in April 2013.
Sneath claims that he was threatened with disciplinary action, and could have been fired, for complaining about his co-workers conduct.
As is required for discrimination lawsuits in federal court, Sneath also filed a complaint with the states Bureau of Labor and Industries, which conducted an investigation. However, according to BOLI spokesperson Charlie Burr, the complaint was withdrawn three months ago.
The new lawsuit comes on the heels of revelations of another, unrelated complaint of workplace discrimination at the county. On April 22, county lobbyist Jared Anderson filed a complaint with the Clackamas County Department of Employee Services alleging that Commissioners John Ludlow and Tootie Smith were pushing him out due to prejudice against his age, political affiliation and sexual orientation. A month-long internal investigation into the claim found that alleged comments by Ludlow and Smith did not rise to the level of workplace discrimination. Anderson left the county June 9 with a six-month severance package.
In the wake of that crisis, Ludlow made a statement affirming a commitment to diversity among Clackamas County employees.