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Longtime Hernando official settles sex discrimination suit

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission voted Tuesday to settle a sex discrimination case brought by longtime county official Jean Rags, who claimed that when she and male leaders got new titles and duties in 2009 they got raises and she did not.

Rags, the county's community development director, said Tuesday that she and Hernando County reached an amicable agreement, but no further comment was appropriate.

The settlement will increase her annual salary to $93,500, putting her in a similar range as other male members of the county's leadership team. That is a $16,143 increase from her previous salary.

The new salary technically kicked in Oct. 1, 2010, so part of the settlement was back pay to that date. The rest of the back pay of $26,237 was a lump sum for the previous fiscal year. Rags' attorney's fees of $6,250 were also paid through the county's insurance.

The 12-year employee filed her complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2011.

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

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

Rags served as director for health and human services until she was tapped to be on the leadership team as that new structure was approved by the County Commission in January 2009. She has since gained responsibility for extra tasks, including veterans services.

In December 2010, as part of county staff restructuring and cost savings, Hamilton suggested changes in the salaries of his leadership team including Rags.

He recommended at the time that her pay increase from $77,357 to $87,056. That new pay rate was just a few hundred dollars shy of what the county's salary and position restructuring consultant determined was market value for her job.

As part of that recommendation, Hamilton also proposed an increase for Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel, the lowest paid of the leadership team who is paid $76,107 a year.

The proposal also would have lowered salaries for Michael McHugh and George Zoettlein in business development and budget, respectively. Their positions were downgraded and they dropped off Hamilton's leadership team.

But the County Commission rejected the plan, asking Hamilton to come back with something more comprehensive.

Recently, Hamilton said he is considering a plan to release county directors, managers and supervisors, restructure those jobs and allow those employees to apply for the new positions at lower salaries. He is modeling a proposal after a similar plan that's being put in place in Hillsborough County.

The county staff continues to look at trimming costs in a variety of areas related to employee expenses, from salaries to benefits. The county remains $4.1 million short in the general fund.

Longtime Hernando official settles sex discrimination suit 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 7:15pm]
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