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County agrees to settle worker suit

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

The Fiscal Court passed an agreement that will settle a nearly two-year-old lawsuit brought against County Clerk Jeff Jerrell by a former employee of the clerk's office.

Following an executive session, the court unanimously agreed to pay Leslie Hannan $195,000, which will be distributed to her in one lump sum. Payment of the amount will come from tax revenue in the general and tax funds.

Hannan will also receive another $150,000 from the county's insurance policy for a total pay out of $345,000. The county is liable because legal action was brought against Jeff Jerrell in his official capacity as county clerk, according to County Attorney Mike Murphy.

He said for this public dispute, it was in the county's best interest to settle based on the mutually agreed upon terms to minimize the exposure for the county and the plaintiff. Murphy added that three outside attorneys examined the case and the proposed settlement and recommended the court accept it.

Judge-Executive Van Newberry said the court made the best decision from the available options.

"I think it's the best result for the taxpayers, but it's unfortunate that the county clerk's office put them in this position," he said.

The lawsuit was filed in April 2012, several months after Hannan was laid off after working there almost 20 years. It initially cited the Fiscal Court as an additional defendant but the court was dropped in September 2012 as the case entered the discovery phase. The sides met for mediation Jan. 6, when the county intervened to settle the suit.

The lawsuit alleged that Hannan was relieved of her position in part due to a letter written that questioned several practices in the office, including the use of IOU or payment deferrals for auto dealers, unrecorded charging privileges, and cashing personal checks. The legal action also cited a hostile work environment after the letter were dispersed and sought a jury trial, employee reinstatement, and financial compensation in the form of back pay and benefits, attorney fees and damages.

Hannan expressed satisfaction that the ordeal is finally resolved.

"I'm happy to just put this behind me after two years," she said.

"Justice has been served and now I can move on with my life."

Jerrell expressed frustration following the meeting that the lawsuit was settled.

He said Hannan's job loss was based purely on cuts from the Fiscal Court to the office's Social Security reimbursements that totaled about a $80,000 reduction in the budget.

"Without those cuts, no layoffs would have occurred and the subsequent audits cleared us completely," he said

Extensive audits completed in 2011 and 2010, the years the letters were written, showed no misconduct or misappropriation of fees and in the 2011 evaluation the office received a perfect score. Hannan was offered her job back along with the other two laid off employees in October 2012 but chose not to return at that time, according to Jerrell.

"I think it's kind of unfortunate to pay her," he said. "My attorney was ready to proceed and we were confident that we would have prevailed."

In other meeting business, the Fiscal Court heard the first reading of the amendment to the local alcoholic beverage control licensing agreement according to statewide changes brought from Senate Bill 13.

Changes to the ordinance, which has remained the same since 1952, would affect the county's current ban on liquor store sales from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on election day.

The state law would allow for sales but the Fiscal Court can override it and continue the ban. A public forum and the second reading of the ordinance are scheduled during the next meeting on Jan. 27.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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