County employee sues over Benton hiring

Anita Largent alleges violations of county policy, state, federal law

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Anita Largent had strong words for two of her bosses on the Clark County board of commissioners Wednesday morning after she officially filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county.

“At the very least, there should have been a fair and open process to decide the next director (of environmental services),” Largent said in a press release. “Instead, what we got was a backroom deal. It’s time to say ‘enough is enough.’ It’s time for some accountability.”

The lawsuit stems from the May 1 appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to the role of director of environmental services by Republican Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke.

Largent, who is still a manager within environmental services and served as the interim director of the department before Benton’s appointment, has alleged that the hiring of Benton “violated nearly every written county policy promising equal employment opportunity, nondiscrimination and fairness in hiring.”

The suit outlines Largent’s qualifications for the position and the fact that she wasn’t allowed the opportunity to at least apply for the job in which Benton was placed.

It also claims discrimination based on gender, as no female candidates were interviewed. It also alleges that Largent was paid less in the interim role than Benton was eventually paid despite her qualifications.

In a tort claim filed in October, Largent stated she believes the county not only violated county hiring policy, but also state law against discrimination and portions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That tort claim states Largent is seeking damages of at least $300,000.

After Largent’s tort claim filing, Mielke said he was surprised by the action: “This doesn’t sound like the Anita that I recommended for the interim (role).”

Madore, who has said he considers Benton a friend, went on a local television news program and likened putting Largent in charge of the department to “taking a person who’s really good at changing spark plugs, and making her the head of the whole dealership.”

Largent’s attorney, Greg Ferguson, stated in a press release that Largent has a “master’s degree and over 23 years of relevant work experience as a director.” Ferguson then responded to Madore’s critique of Largent’s skills.

“My response to that is: hiring a pro-business career politician and motivational speaker to promote healthy ecosystems and protect our county watershed is like, well, hiring a pro-business career politician and motivational speaker to promote healthy ecosystems and protect our county watershed,” he said. “It seems that while a couple of these guys are in office, the ‘womenfolk’ won’t be doing any of the people’s really important work.”

Also in the press release, Largent says she hopes her lawsuit changes the county for the better.

“Clark County’s written commitment to equal employment opportunity should actually mean something,” Largent said. “I hope that, if nothing else, this case can be a vehicle for some of that needed ‘transparency’ that the commissioners keep telling us we are lacking,” said Largent. “Hopefully, it can change things for the better.”

Commissioners have instituted a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.