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Hernando official accuses county of sex discrimination

BROOKSVILLE — When the County Commission approved the new county government leadership team of department directors in January 2009, the members saw their duties multiplied.

That included Jean Rags, director of health and human services at the time. She wound up taking on animal services, code enforcement, emergency management and veteran services.

While she got a bump in her salary then, she was the lowest-paid director, making about $15,000 a year less than the others on the team.

Rags' duties have been shuffled once again, but her salary remains at $77,357.

To Rags, this is evidence that she is being treated differently from her male colleagues because of her gender.

The 12-year county employee filed a sexual discrimination complaint against the county with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The county's human resources department received notice of the filing late Thursday.

The complaint is the first step in a process that could end in formal legal action.

"In or about January 2009, I and several male employees were given new titles and responsibilities,'' Rags wrote in her complaint. "Although my skills, efforts and responsibilities were equal to those of the males, all of the males are paid more than I.

"David Hamilton, county administrator, acknowledged the inequity, promised to resolve the inequity, but to date has not.''

Reached in her office Friday, Rags declined to comment.

Assistant county attorney Jon Jouben acknowledged receipt of the complaint but declined to comment because the county attorney's office does not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint by Rags comes in the midst of commission discussions about realigning the pay of the county government's top leaders.

In early December, Hamilton gave commissioners a plan to give large raises to Rags and Susan Goebel, who was recently named director of transportation services.

He recommended that Rags' salary be increased to $87,056, just a few hundred dollars below the market value for her position, according to the county's salary and position restructuring consultant.

Hamilton also suggested pay cuts for Michael McHugh, who oversees business development, and George Zoettlein, who develops the county budget. Each was dropping responsibilities and their titles were changing from director to manager.

But the commission balked at those changes, which would have netted $9,249 in payroll savings. Commissioners instead asked Hamilton to bring the recommendations back but with a wider focus on the county's total management team.

Until the commission acts, that leaves salaries for other members of the leadership team at $76,107 for Goebel, $94,411 for public safety director Mike Nickerson, $93,558 for land services director Ron Pianta, $92,706 for environmental services director Joe Stapf, $96,000 for director of administrative services Cheryl Marsden, $97,739 for Zoettlein and $96,554 for McHugh.

The discrimination complaint by Rags is just the latest such action against the county in recent months.

Former public works director and county engineer Charles Mixson filed an age discrimination complaint after he was fired a year ago. He was 60 at the time of his dismissal.

Several months ago, he attended a mediation session but it ended with no agreement. No new mediation session in that case has been sought.

Last month, a former library services employee filed suit in federal court also alleging age discrimination.

Lucille Christman, who had worked for the county since August 1995, alleges in the suit that she was laid off in September 2008 because of her age.

"Christman's termination from employment was contrary to the defendant's policies and procedures regarding reductions in force,'' the suit alleges. "Instead, Christman was selected for layoff because of her age.''

Christman was 59 when she was laid off.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando official accuses county of sex discrimination 01/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 5:50pm]
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