State rules county executive did not discriminate
The state Department of Workforce Development reported it has found no probable cause for a discrimination complaint that Portage County Corporation Counsel Michael McKenna filed against Portage County Executive Patty Dreier last year.
In its determination, the state says there is no probable cause to move forward with the complaint McKenna filed Aug. 31, 2015, alleging Dreier repeatedly discriminated against him due to his age and his status as a veteran, citing performance reviews and reprimands as well as an alleged comment regarding “extravagant lifestyles” of county veterans as evidence.
“There is insufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause that (Dreier) violated the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law with regard to (McKenna),” the state determination said.
“Nothing (McKenna) describes is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to establish a hostile working environment,” it said. “Even occasional or sporadic use of slurs does not meet with high legal standard.
“The most (McKenna) describes is allegedly unjustified criticism of performance, references to succession planning, provision of monthly reports, and a reference to extravagant lifestyles, which is far less than that,” it said.
Dreier issued a one-sentence statement regarding the judgment:
“I am pleased with the determination and confident that the right decision was reached,” she said. She declined to comment further.
The initial determination was filed on Aug. 8, and McKenna has 30 days from that date to file an appeal. As of press time, McKenna had not responded to The Gazette requesting comment about the state’s ruling or whether he would appeal the decision.
McKenna has served as corporation counsel for Portage County since 1998. His complaint says that from 1998 to 2013 his employee performance record was not perfect, but indicated excellent performance. He said since 2013 he has been “warned, reprimanded and disciplined without any cause.”
Dreier has served as the county executive and has been McKenna’s supervisor since she was first elected in 2010.
McKenna listed in his complaint four correspondences from Dreier he has received since 2013, pointing to them as evidence of her discrimination. The items included a written verbal warning, a written reprimand, his 2015 evaluation and a letter.
He alleged in the complaint that Dreier’s actions and words were designed to force his resignation or termination.
Dreier disputed the claims in a response, which in part says, “The complaint essentially boils down to Mr. McKenna’s dissatisfaction with the manner in which Ms. Dreier is seeking to manage and supervise his department.
“While the corporation counsel department may have previously operated largely as an independent entity, Ms. Dreier has sought to implement some measures of accountability and control over all departments, as she is authorized and empowered to do as the county executive,” the response said.
The investigator assigned to the case disputed that.
* With regards to the complaint that younger department heads were not treated similarly, McKenna “points to no examples of other individuals failing to inform Dreier of information she likely would have wanted to know or engaging in a conflict of interest.” McKenna’s evidence of an older employee allowed to engage in a conflict and other individuals in McKenna’s age range with more responsibilities not being disciplined, and “both of these things are inconsistent with age discrimination.”
* Discussing succession planning is a normal thing to do in an organization and is not in itself suggestive of age discrimination. “All departments, not just those with older heads, were required to succession plan,” the ruling said, and Dreier continues to hire department heads in McKenna’s age range.
* “Describing a generous benefit for service members as providing an extravagant lifestyle, while without tact, is not in itself sufficient to be suggestive of general bias against military veterans,” the determination said.
Two department heads hired during Dreier’s tenure are veterans, the state’s ruling said.