Clark County settles suits filed by two women for more than $1 million

Former sheriff’s office employees allege they were harassed

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County has agreed to pay out more than a million dollars to settle two lawsuits brought against it by women who alleged they were harassed while working for the sheriff’s office.

In December of last year, Pandora Pierce, who worked in the sheriff’s records department for 20 years, and Erin Nolan, who served as chief civil deputy, filed separate lawsuits against the county. Pierce, an African-American woman, alleged in her suit that she faced “differential treatment through pay disparity and a racially hostile work environment.” Nolan alleged that she faced gender discrimination and a sexually hostile work environment where she was placed on leave without explanation and was the subject of an unfounded investigation.

Both are represented by Portland lawyer Thomas Boothe, who didn’t respond to a request for comment. Their settlement agreements, obtained through a public records request, were signed Sept. 7 by Clark County Risk Manager Mark Wilsdon, who declined to comment on the agreements.

Under the respective agreements, the county will pay out $775,000 to Nolan and another $525,000 to Pierce. Both women agreed to drop their lawsuits and to not pursue further claims against the county. In tort claims filed in October of last year, each woman sought $2 million from the county.

Neither side will disparage or demean each other under the agreements. The sheriff’s office agreed to provide letters of reference for each woman that includes positive language from their most recent performance evaluations. Both agreements state that they may not be construed as “an admission of liability or wrongdoing” on the part of the county.

Third lawsuit

However, the county is taking a different approach to a third related lawsuit.

In addition the lawsuits from Pierce and Nolan, Boothe also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jennifer Maphet, a sheriff’s corrections officer, who alleged that her employer retaliated against her after she suffered a workplace injury that prevented her from returning to work.

Clark County left the Washington Counties Risk Pool, a group of counties that purchase insurance together to reduce costs, in April 2014. But Wilsdon said that because the incidents alleged in Maphet’s lawsuit occurred while the county was participating in the pool it’s still covered.

The pool moved to settle the lawsuit, but the county council instead decided last month to defend against it. Wilsdon said it’s unusual for the county to exercise this option, which means that it won’t be covered by the pool and would be liable should it lose the case.

The council made the decision last month after emerging from executive session, a meeting that excludes the public while councilors and staff discuss pending litigation. Public records regarding the county’s decision to contest the lawsuit have been heavily redacted and have shed little light on the situation.