A former employee has filed a complaint against Yellowstone County Clerk of Court Kristie Boelter, claiming Boelter discriminated and retaliated against her because she supported Boelter’s opponent in last year’s election.
Barbara Klang, who resigned as a deputy clerk in March, alleges in a complaint filed with the Montana Human Rights Bureau that Boelter subjected her to “an uncomfortable and hostile work environment,” did not apply standards equally to all employees and “played favorites to those who supported her in the election.”
Klang filed the complaint Sept. 3. She also named Yellowstone County in the case. Klang resigned March 14.
In addition to Klang’s MHRB complaint, Yellowstone County separately investigated complaints Klang made about the clerk of court’s office to the county’s Human Resources Department.
In a report submitted to the county on March 30 by Tami Bishop Rhodes, a consultant and former MHRB investigator, Rhodes said she found “a preponderance of the evidence does support either the charge of retaliation or discrimination based on political belief” in Klang’s case.
Klang’s attorney, Julieann McGarry of Bozeman, declined to comment.
Boelter also declined to comment, noting that the complaint is an ongoing investigation. The county is representing both Boelter and itself.
The county denied all allegations in a response on Tuesday to Klang's MHRB complaint.
The MHRB has 180 days to complete an investigation of a complaint, said Tim Little, an attorney for the agency.
County Commission Chairman Jim Reno said the county hired Rhodes to investigate Klang’s complaints to its Human Resources Department. Reno said he has not read the report but has been briefed on it and will take the recommendations seriously.
“Elected officials can get us into trouble, but at the end of the day, we (the commissioners) have to be the responsible party,” Reno said.
The Rhodes report made five suggestions: that the “progressive discipline process” be clarified with employees; employees must be given an opportunity to request union representation; specific issues must be defined in disciplinary actions; political belief issues must be carefully analyzed before a department head takes action; and all disciplinary action must be reviewed by the human resources director and/or the county attorney’s office before being issued.
Boelter, a Republican and former deputy clerk, ousted Carol Muessig, the incumbent and a Democrat, in the November 2012 general election. Boelter had quit her clerk’s job to run against Muessig and was critical of Muessig’s management. She claimed that Muessig had demoted her and acknowledged she butted heads with Muessig.
Earlier this summer, Boelter came under fire from the district’s six judges, who said she was slow in getting documents scanned and was not using staff and resources effectively.
Klang’s MHRB complaint said that from April 2009 until December 2012, she worked well and without incident as a deputy clerk under Muessig’s administration. Klang also publicly supported Muessig in the election.
When Boelter took office in January, Klang said, Boelter subjected her to “disparate treatment” and discriminated against her because of her political beliefs.
Boelter appointed friends who had supported her election to supervisory positions and gave Klang, who already was carrying a heavy workload, more work, the complaint said.
Shortly after beginning her new job, Boelter took away Klang’s office, which Muessig had provided her so she could focus on processing criminal judgments in a separate, quiet space. The office also accommodated Klang’s medically documented allergies to perfumes and scents and gave her a place where she could breathe more easily, the complaint said.
“According to Ms. Boelter, the reason for the office removal was that Ms. Klang had been given preferential treatment from Boelter’s predecessor,” the complaint said.
Boelter in March had Klang’s printer transferred to a supervisor, depriving her of equipment needed to do an efficient job, the complaint said.
Three days later, the complaint said, Boelter gave Klang a verbal warning in the presence of two supervisors who had supported Boelter’s election. Boelter told Klang that she demonstrated an “unacceptable demeanor with her co-workers and supervisors,” including having a “sharp and abrupt response to a supervisor.”
Klang was “horrified, stunned and devastated” by the verbal warning, the complaint said. She resigned three days later.
In addition, one of the supervisors mentioned in the verbal warning said Klang did not respond “sharply and abruptly” as Boelter alleged.
Klang alleges she was “blindsided” by the verbal warning, did not have time to ask for union representation and doesn’t think she would have been disciplined if she had supported Boelter’s election.
Boelter did not discipline an employee who violated a "no scents" policy or take disciplinary action against other employees, the complaint said.
Klang further alleges that Boelter retaliated against her through the "no scents" policy that Muessig had established.
After her election, Boelter hired a former employee who had supported her, the complaint said. The employee walked by Klang’s desk three to four times a day and Klang smelled scents on her, the complaint said.
On Feb. 1, Boelter sent an email to the deputy clerks reminding them of the “no fragrance" policy. Eleven days later, the same employee who had been wearing scents and walking by Klang’s desk sprayed “a scented product” in the clerk’s office. The spray caused a bad reaction for Klang, the complaint said.
Klang went to Boelter later that day and told her she wanted to make a formal complaint about her co-worker’s excessive perfume use. Klang also filed a complaint with the county’s Human Resources Department.
The Human Resources staff told Klang that other employees had complained about the clerk’s office and that it was bringing in an independent investigator, the complaint said.
After Klang complained to the Human Resources Department, Boelter took action against Klang by removing her printer and giving her a verbal warning that was not given to the employee who violated the policy on fragrances, the complaint said.
Klang alleges Boelter’s discrimination and retaliation have caused her emotional and physical distress and financial damage.