Wednesday, September 20, 2017
DALLAS — An employee of West Valley Housing Authority filed a tort claim notice alleging she was the victim of a co-worker’s “jokes” about killing or harming her.
A tort claim notice serves as a warning that a lawsuit could potentially be filed.
The notice claims that Sheri Beehner, the family self-sufficiency coordinator at WVHA, was the target of jokes by co-workers Rick Batie, Jeff Berry and Liz Sylva.
The notice that said between May 2017 and August 2017, two or more of those employees allegedly made jokes about workplace shootings, shooting Beehner, suicide, Beehner’s health, and jokes that used “sexist and highly offensive terminology.”
In one conservation, they allegedly joked about giving her a horse tranquilizer “that would cause her head to explode and her to die,” adding that Beehner needed a “frontal lobotomy.” Batie also distributed a cartoon that depicted Beehner as bat used to hit a WVHA manager with, the claim said.
“Jokes were made about a variety of other co-workers and clients, which included references to the co-workers and clients in highly offensive and derogatory terms,” the notice said.
Christian Edelblute, the executive director of WVHA, said he would like to respond to the allegations in the complaint, but can’t.
“We are not in a position to do so at this time due to the fact the allegations concern an internal, personnel issue and the potential that litigation may ensue,” he said in a statement. “The WVHA takes complaints of personnel issues seriously, and this complaint is being processed according to the WVHA’s policies.”
Beehner, through her attorney, Nelson Hall, of Portland firm Bennett, Hartman, Morris & Kaplan, sent the tort claim notice to Blair Wasson, the housing authority’s board chairman, and legal counsel, Morgan Smith. It alleges, “intentional infliction of emotional distress, gender discrimination, retaliation against a whistleblower, and spoliation of evidence.”
WVHA administers two housing assistance programs in Polk County, the Housing Choice Voucher Program and Public Housing Program. Both are paid for by the federal government.
Edelblute also is named in the notice, which alleges that, after learning of the comments and listening to the conversations — which were recorded phone conversations— Edelblute took no action to discipline the employees or to protect Beehner.
On Aug. 12, Beehner told Edelblute that “she could no longer handle the stress of feeling threatened at work by WVHA employees, including Batie, Sylva and Berry. She notified him that she would be seeking medical attention,” the claim said.
On Aug. 15, Beehner’s union, Oregon American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, informed Smith of its concerns about “serious and time-sensitive misconduct taking place at WVHA, including employees discussing violence during recorded phone conversations.”
On Aug. 16, Smith listened to a selection of those recordings, the notice said.
The notice also provided details on an Aug. 29 staff meeting during which employees allegedly joked about “arming WVHA clients with guns and knives dripping in blood in order to ensure that they were arrested or harmed by the police.”
Beehner’s husband, also a WVHA employee, was a witness to this conversation, the notice said.
Beehner additionally claims the WVHA didn’t prevent those accused of misconduct from deleting, destroying or manipulating evidence.
Oregon AFSCME spokesman Ross Grami in statement called the incidents described in the notice as “appalling.”
“It is unacceptable to threaten or joke about threats against a coworker, and it's disturbing this situation was allowed to go on so long,” Grami said.
The notice said if a lawsuit is filed, “Ms. Beehner will pursue any and all damages available to her, including both economic and non-economic damages.”