Thursday, July 9, 2020

Met Rec responds to charge of discrimination from past manager

State looking into the complaint

by Mark Reaman

The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District last week filed a response to the Colorado Department of Civil Rights regarding a complaint from the district’s former district director, Lori Patin.

Patin claimed she was fired last March based on age discrimination and in retaliation for her personal beliefs. Met Rec attorneys for the firm Senter, Goldfarb and Rice LLC responded that Patin was basically terminated as a result of her unwillingness to work with the new board members and their desire to increase the district’s focus on recreation as well as over-the-air television.

Patin’s complaint, filed with the state in September through attorney Roger Sagal, stated that she believed she was “unlawfully discriminated against because of my age and in retaliation for engaging in protected activity…”

Patin was 62 years old when she was fired from her job and had been with the district since 1993. She was replaced by Hedda Peterson, who was 31 years old at the time.

Patin also cited criticisms from board members that she was not “forward thinking,” “not capable of transitioning,” nor capable of a “high tempo job” as “veiled criticisms that reflected a strong bias” against her due to her age.

Patin said that after Ian Billick, Dave Clayton and Derrick Nehrenberg were elected to the board in 2016, they created a hostile work environment. She said the board members harassed her and openly called for her termination in 2018, especially after a particularly contentious board meeting in November.

The district maintains that Patin was not fired because of her age but because she was not even willing to engage in discussion with the board about a new executive director job description and whether she was interested and able to assume the duties of a new full-time manager position.

The charge that the board retaliated against her for protected activity stems from the 2016 board election when the Met Rec’s Facebook page had two posts advocating votes for those running against Billick, Clayton and Nehrenberg. The board maintains that while Patin has every right to advocate personally for whomever she wants in an election, the district’s resources cannot be used for such purposes. And while Patin might not have made the actual posts, only three people had access to write such posts on the district’s Facebook wall. Billick brought up the issue to Patin and expressed concern that she had not handled the situation appropriately as district manager.

Ultimately, the Met Rec’s attorneys replied to the state that “It is apparent that any issues the Board majority had with Patin’s job performance were not related to her age but her failure to engage in consistent and effective communication with the Board, issues in effectively managing the District’s only other employee, and her failures to satisfactorily perform her job in light of the District’s evolving mission related to an increase in funding related to the de-Brucing efforts.”

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies has about a year to complete the investigation after it is filed. Met Rec attorney Marcus Lock said the board would consider whether to engage in an alternative dispute resolution process.

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