Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Dec. 6, 2022

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Settlement in Benton case ‘fully and finally’ resolves all claims

‘No admission of wrongdoing’ on part of county officials

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark County officials were mostly mum Thursday about a $1.4 million settlement agreement with former employees Don Benton, Christopher Clifford and Susan Rice, who claimed they were wrongfully terminated by the county after filing a whistleblower lawsuit in 2016.

County Manager Kathleen Otto did say that the settlement agreement will “fully and finally” resolve all pending claims by Benton, Clifford and Rice against the county.

The county’s insurance carriers will pay $1,005,000 of the total settlement amount, and Clark County has agreed to pay $395,000.

In an email statement, Otto wrote “The county entered into negotiations with the plaintiffs and insurance carriers which resulted in a settlement agreement. As part of the settlement agreement, the plaintiffs will dismiss all claims regarding this matter, including the claims that resulted in the jury verdict — the settlement agreement is not in addition to the jury award.”

Included in that $1.4 million agreement is approximately $800,000 in legal fees, which were not included in the May jury award.

Otto noted that while the county did agree to the settlement, there was “no admission of wrongdoing,” and that “any and all claims regarding this matter are considered resolved.”

Otto said the county would be better able to discuss details of the agreement once all parties involved have signed it.

Benton, the former director of the now-defunct county Department of Environmental Services, filed the wrongful termination suit in December 2016 in Clark County Superior Court, along with Rice, who had served as Benton’s administrative assistant, and Clifford, a program coordinator at the department.

The three claimed they faced hostility and retaliation after resisting what they described as improper actions by then-county manager Mark McCauley. They were laid off in March 2016 when McCauley eliminated the department as a “cost-saving measure” amid a staff reorganization.

In May, a jury agreed with the trio and awarded them $693,998. Benton was awarded $67,798 in damages, while Clifford was awarded $234,800 and Rice was awarded $391,400. A similar breakdown of payments from the settlement is not available because that will have to be decided by the plaintiffs and their legal representatives.

However, the jury finding did not bring an end to the legal wrangling.

A month later the county filed an appeal seeking a review of each judgment and “each and every adverse ruling and determination” made during the proceedings. With the settlement, the county will drop its appeal.