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Jan. 29, 2022

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Clark County continues to defend self in Benton lawsuit trial

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

Clark County continued to defend itself Wednesday in the trial of a lawsuit brought by Don Benton, the former director of the now-defunct Department of Environmental Services, and two subordinates.

Throughout trial, the county has maintained there was no wrongdoing in the May 2016 layoffs of Benton, Christopher Clifford, a program coordinator, and Susan Rice, an administrative assistant, amid what it contends was a staff reorganization.

About two weeks before the layoffs, Benton submitted a whistleblower complaint against then-county manager Mark McCauley, accusing him of illegal actions and political retaliation. Clifford and Rice helped Benton draft the complaint.

They then filed a lawsuit later that year in Clark County Superior Court alleging hostility and retaliation during their employment.

On Wednesday, the defense called former and current county employees to testify about the county budget and how it related to the environmental services department, as well as human resources policies and procedures pertaining to layoffs and employee reassignment or rehire.

To Watch Trial

The trial is not physically open to the public, but it can be viewed remotely by following the link:

None of the plaintiffs were reassigned or rehired by the county after their layoffs. Rice, a 19-year county employee, had applied for a number of jobs for which she believed she was qualified.

A human resources employee testified that hiring for those jobs was handled by department directors. Rice failed a skills test in one instance. In another, the position was ultimately left vacant.

When testimony resumed after the lunch hour Wednesday, the defense indicated it planned to rest Thursday. Judge Gregory Gonzales said the case will likely go to the jury early next week.