A former county employee has filed a civil lawsuit against Cass County as well as the county auditor and county treasurer, alleging that she was discriminated and retaliated against after coming back to work from maternity leave in 2016.
Susan Edmonsond was a deputy auditor in the Cass County auditor’s office for two years. She was fired in January after a coworker allegedly complained about her to the human resources department, though court records indicate Edmonsond believes the real reason she was let go was “based on her sex and pregnancy, and in retaliation for her complaints of discrimination” in the workplace.
The lawsuit, which was filed November in Cass County Circuit Court, seeks “compensatory and punitive damages” and names the county along with Cass County Treasurer Steve Cheslik and Cass County Auditor Ryan Wescoat as defendants.
It alleges that during the last two months of Edmonsond’s job in the auditor’s office, the county “reduced plaintiff’s pay, issuing plaintiff unfair compensation, failing and refusing to investigate and remedy plaintiff’s complaints of discrimination, telling plaintiff a false alleged complaint had been made against her, generally treating plaintiff unfairly and with hostility, and terminating her employment,” the petition said.
Edmonsond declined a request for comment via email. Her attorney, Kathleen Mannion did not respond to a request for comment.
Westcoat, Edmonsond’s former supervisor, provided a statement to The Democrat in response to the lawsuit’s filing.
“I can’t comment fully on pending litigation,” Wescoat said, “but what I can say is that once all the evidence is heard, I am extremely confident that the county, Steve Cheslik, and myself will be absolved of any and all wrongdoing.”
Cheslik and Presiding Cass County Commissioner Jeff Cox declined to comment on the lawsuit’s claims, citing pending litigation.
According to the petition filed in court, Edmonsond learned she was pregnant in May 2016 and took her maternity leave sometime in September 2016. When she returned to work in the auditor’s office by Nov. 1, 2016, the suit said an agreement was made that she could work a modified schedule, with different start and end times compared to her colleagues.
The suit also noted that Edmonsond was “an exempt, salaried employee.” However, county records obtained through a Sunshine Law request indicates that Edmonsond was “a non-exempt, hourly employee whose hourly rate ... was annualized to $45,000.”
The county allegedly reduced Edmonsond’s pay for working on a modified schedule, though her suit claims that she continued to work full-time hours.
The suit said Edmonsond had previously worked a modified schedule once before, while she was campaigning to be on the Raymore-Peculiar school board earlier in 2016. She said during her campaign, her pay had not been reduced.
County records indicate that Edmonsond was hired in January 2015 as a full-time deputy auditor who was paid $21.63 per hour, the annualized hourly rate for $45,000 per year.
Pursuant to The Democrat’s records request, the county said Edmonsond received one raise during the two years she worked in the auditor’s office, a 2-percent pay increase for a cost-of-living adjustment Jan. 1 that all county employees received.
The suit also said Edmonsond wasn’t offered a lunch break while other employees were allowed two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break. Court records also said Edmonsond felt her supervisor, Wescoat, “treated her differently in that he acted coldly toward her and was unfairly critical of her work.”
Edmonsond first complained to Wescoat on Nov. 28, 2016, that she felt she was “being treated unfairly and discriminated against,” the suit said. She also complained to human resources on Dec. 2, 2016. The suit said the plaintiff complained to human resources and to Wescoat again later that month, but that the defendants failed to take action to address the complaints.
According to the suit, Edmonsond said she also told the human resources department that she planned to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about the allegedly discriminatory conduct.
Wescoat and a human resources employee terminated Edmonsond’s employment on Jan. 3, 2017, after another employee — Derek Moorhead, the chief deputy auditor, according to the suit — allegedly made a complaint against her.
Edmonsond believes her firing was in retaliation for her complaints of discrimination.
The suit said “as another example of sex discrimination,” Moorhead, a male, “was allowed to work less hours than (the) plaintiff, yet on information and belief, was paid at least the same annual salary” as Edmonsond.
According to county records, Moorhead, who is currently the chief deputy auditor in the auditor’s office, is an exempt, salaried employee. Moorhead’s annual salary was $45,000 in 2016. It increased to $45,900 by Jan. 1 after county employees received a cost of living adjustment. The chief deputy auditor’s salary increased again to $50,000 on Jan. 16.
Aside from Wescoat, the suit also names Cheslik, the county treasurer, as a defendant. The suit said Cheslik was listed as the payor on the plaintiff’s paychecks and “was involved in issuing or administering compensation to plaintiff in a discriminatory manner as compared to her similarly situated colleague, Mr. Moorhead.”
Edmonsond filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights on Feb. 7, the suit said. The petition indicates that the Commission issued Edmonsond a notice of her right to sue in late August based on the complaint.
The process of filing a complaint of discrimination is outlined on the Commission’s website.
According to the website, if no discrimination is found in its investigation, the Commission said it closes its case and notifies the complainant of their right to sue, giving the complainant 90 days to file suit. In a case where a Commission investigator finds probable cause, the agency said it tries to settle the case or set the matter for a hearing.
A petition was filed in the Cass County Circuit Clerk’s Office on Nov. 22, 89 days after the Missouri Commission on Human Rights’ notice was issued.
The case was assigned to Judge William B. Collins and a summons was issued to the defendants on Nov. 27, according to online court records. The plaintiff has requested a jury trial in the case.