Last month, a dispute between Houston County and a former employee was settled before going to trial, when the county agreed to a $60,000 “agreement and release” to end the matter. The facts of that legal battle have now come to light, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Caledonia Argus.
On August 22, 2017 commissioners voted to hire Jennifer Egge as a probationary deputy auditor/license center clerk, effective September 5. In February of 2018, instead of transitioning to regular status, Egge’s probationary employment was extended by the county board following a closed-session meeting. She was subsequently terminated following another closed session on April 10 of that year.
On July 10, 2018, Egge filed a lawsuit against Houston County in district court, seeking to “remedy illegal retaliation in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.” The complaint included some 60 paragraphs on what Egge said had happened, and brought claims of wrongdoing by county staff, including being pressured to “lie under oath” about events occuring at the Auditor’s Office while she was there. Egge sought reinstatement, back pay, attorney’s fees, and damages in excess of $50,000 “to be determined at trial.”
Defendant Houston County answered the complaint in detail on August 23, contesting numerous points in the document. The county did not admit to any wrongdoing, and claimed that Egge’s extended probation and termination were based solely on her “work performance.”
The county also specifically denied that it had violated the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.
The case went to mediation on April 26, 2019, and county commissioners voted to “compromise and settle all disputes” on May 14. The motion to do so specifically mentioned a “$35,000 payment to be made to Jennifer Egge.” However, when The Argus obtained the settlement documents, it became clear that the total amount was $60,000, which included the aforementioned $35,000 plus a $25,000 insurance payment from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust.
Egge’s attorneys were to receive $30,469 for legal expenses and fees, while Egge would get the rest in the form of two equal checks, one earmarked as “compensation for alleged emotional distress damages,” and the other for “alleged wage loss.”
The dismissal agreement also states that the defendant will pay the mediation fee, and the plaintiff agrees that she will “not apply for other employment with (the) defendant.” For it’s part, Houston County made “no admission of liability” in that document.