A former Yankton County zoning administrator is suing the county and two county commissioners over his removal from his post last year.
Former Planning & Zoning Administrator Pat Garrity has filed a complaint and a request for trial by jury against Yankton County Commissioner Daniel Klimisch, County Commissioner Joseph Healy and Yankton County.
The document recounts Garrity’s experience with the county commissioners named in the suit on the subject of permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and conditional use permits (CUPs) related to CAFOs. Garrity alleges resulting stress and illness that required him to take leave last year under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and in accordance with the policies of Yankton County.
Garrity was fired last August, and the document alleges that the firing was not for cause, and their treatment of the situation caused him to require a leave of absence for health reasons.
The county has never officially acknowledged Garrity’s employment status.
The document presents alleged incidents that Garrity claims began after the commissioners named in the lawsuit took office in January 2019. Until then, requests for CAFOs and related CUPs were administered through Garrity’s office, and he and his assistant often helped applicants with the applications.
Klimisch, Healy and Cheri Loest took office last year defeating incumbents Todd Woods, Debra Bodenstedt and Raymon Epp. The change came during a period of controversy over the handling of CAFOs and associated CUPs. The incumbents had been mostly in favor of CAFO expansion, while the new commissioners had run on platforms that would reduce and regulate CAFOs.
The complaint filed Tuesday draws connections between the politics surrounding the CAFOs and CUPs and the alleged actions listed in the court document.
Until January 2019, Garrity alleges, all of his performance reviews for the approximately 10 years he worked for the county were very good to outstanding.
Once the new commissioners took office, the document alleges that Garrity and his work came under unprecedented scrutiny, which caused undo stress and depression, exacerbating his already-high blood pressure.
Allegations include that Klimisch, then the commission chairman, and Healy instructed Garrity to be less helpful to members of the public seeking to comply with the county’s planning and zoning ordinances, particularly in relation to CUPs for CAFOs. Garrity claims these instructions were contrary to his written job description.
By the end of January, the document alleges, Klimisch and Healy notified Garrity that they would be directly involved with three specific pending zoning matters, meeting privately with applicants before any public hearings were held.
Garrity was allegedly notified during that meeting that he would not appear on the County Commission’s agenda to assist zoning applicants or have public discussions regarding zoning.
While giving his report to the commission last February, Garrity did not question any interpretations of the ordinances, but did so later, in private conversations as a concerned citizen, who did not want the county to incur litigation by not following open meeting procedures, the document said.
Garrity claims he was disciplined by Klimisch and Healy for those conversations, and was told to refrain from making “inappropriate” and “disturbing” comments during public meetings.
The complaint also questioned the legality of a Feb. 13, 2019, meeting during which the states attorney allegedly said had been publicized according to law, but was not publicized.
The stress generated by these and other interactions led to Garrity’s health issues, the document alleged, which his doctor said required leave and were covered by the FMLA.
The document details several instances in which the commission allegedly acted to block Garrity’s access to FMLA benefits, offered him varying amounts of severance pay and blocked him from returning to another, less-stressful position at the county.
Garrity spent down his sick leave and vacation time over the next few months and in August 2019, was about to begin FMLA leave when he was fired without cause, he alleges.
Garrity claims he was illegally retaliated against for exercising his FMLA rights; that he was illegally discriminated against and fired for exercising his FMLA rights and that he was retaliated against for exercising his right to free speech as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Garrity is requesting a court award him a trial by jury on the matter to determine the legality of the acts alleged in his complaint, and also to award damages.
Requested damages include loss of compensation, loss of future employment income and benefits, mental anguish, physical harm, distress, embarrassment, loss of reputation, attorney fees, court costs, and liquidated and punitive damages.
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