Title: Multnomah County, Oregon and Multnomah
County Employees Local 88
THE MATTER OF THE GRIEVANCE
LOCAL 88, AFSCME COUNCIL 75, )
FOR THE EMPLOYER:
Labor Relations Specialist
AFSCME Council 75
N.E. 3rd Avenue
1120 S.W. 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97204-1934
88 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,
AFL-CIO (the Union), and Multnomah County, Oregon (the Employer or the County)
are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that provides employees may
be subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal, for cause. Barbara
Seaquist, an employee of the County Health Department, was dismissed from her
employment on July 25, 2000. She filed a grievance and the matter went to arbitration.
parties agreed the issue in dispute was whether the County had just cause to
suspend and subsequently dismiss Ms. Seaquist from her employment.
If it did not, what is the appropriate remedy?
RELEVANT CONTRACT PROVISIONS
following provisions of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement are
relevant to the issue in dispute:
Article 17. Disciplinary
of Discipline for Cause and Notice Requirements
may, in good faith for just cause, be subject to disciplinary action by oral
or written reprimand, demotion, reduction in pay, suspension, dismissal, or
any combination of the above, provided, however, that such action shall take
effect only after the exempt supervisor gives written notice of the action and
cause to the employee and sends written notice to the Union.
Oral or written reprimands do not require prior written notice.
shall include misconduct, inefficiency, incompetence, insubordination,
indolence, malfeasance, or failing to fulfill responsibilities as an employee.
Seaquist had two periods of employment with Multnomah County.
The first was June 14, 1995 until September 15, 1999, as an office
assistant with the Department of Community Justice.
The second was from March 28, 2000 to July 25, 2000, with the Health
Department, also as an office assistant.
January of 1997, an operations supervisor with the Department of Community
Corrections wrote a letter to Ms. Seaquist regarding the Department’s policy
that required employees to immediately report any personal or business
relationship with offenders. The letter informed her that the Department was not notified
by her about her son’s status as an offender in the system.
The seriousness of the failure to notify was expressed in the letter,
and a set of Department rules were given her.
The letter expressly told her not to access any information on her son.
April of 1999, a counselor at the Snake River Correctional Institution lodged
a complaint with officials of the County Department of Community Justice
alleging that Barbara Seaquist had improperly accessed State of Oregon
Department of Correction’s electronic records on inmate Joel Seaquist,
Barbara’s son who was at Snake River. The
counselor said Seaquist had added her son’s identification number to her
caseload thereby enabling her to access counselor notes and pass them on to
her son. A copy of the
electronically generated notice showing the added case to her caseload was
furnished to County Department of Community Justice officials.
investigator for Community Justice met with Ms. Seaquist and her supervisor to
discuss the complaint. When asked if she would like to make any comment about the
complaint, she declined and stated she knew nothing about it.
She indicated she knew accessing such records without a business reason
was improper. Later that same day, she asked to speak again with the
investigator and expressed an interest in the possible consequences of
accessing the records as alleged.
July 6, 1999, Ms. Seaquist received written notice from Michael King, district
manager and her supervisor’s superior, of the specific charges that were
being brought against her. The basis for the charges was accessing confidential
information of an offender. The
notice invited her written response.
Seaquist responded in writing to King’s letter by saying she put her son’s
identification number into the computer because a number was asked for and she
knew his number. In trying to get
his number off, she opened the counselor’s caseload, but was not successful
and closed out. She denied any
violation of rules or confidentiality. She
said she did not understand what was happening when the investigator and her
supervisor first approached her.
few days later, Ms. Seaquist wrote Mr. King asking that he consider
transferring her to another agency where she would not have access to
corrections data. She went on to
say she understood she violated policy and that she should have been more
August 30, 1999, Ms. Seaquist was notified that she was suspended without pay
from her job for fifteen days and would be dismissed effective September 16,
1999. During meetings between
her, King and union stewards prior to her suspension and notice of dismissal,
resignation was discussed as one option she had.
The meetings were congenial, and no hostility was involved.
Mr. King did not ask her to resign or tell her she would be fired
unless she did.
September 14, 1999, Ms. Seaquist sent Mr. King a memorandum advising him that
she resigned her position. Mr.
King acknowledged her resignation on September 20.
Seaquist applied for a job with the County Health Department and was
eventually interviewed and hired. On her application for employment, under employment history,
she left blank the space that asked her reason for leaving her job at
Community Corrections. Of the
five former employers she listed as full-time paid work and gave detailed
information about, none of the reasons-for-leaving spaces were left blank,
except Community Corrections. Her
explanation was that it was an oversight.
Pickthorne, a supervisor for whom Ms. Seaquist had worked as an on-call
the County Health Department, interviewed and hired Ms. Seaquist to a permanent
office assistant position. Ms.
Seaquist advised her that she, Seaquist, had worked as a county employee
previously and would probably be eligible to be placed as a reinstated employee.
to Ms. Seaquist’s actual appointment as a permanent employee, Ms. Pickthorne
called Ms. Seaquist’s former supervisor at the Department of Community
Justice, Sheryle Sample. Ms. Sample was unwilling to provide information about Ms.
Seaquist’s performance. Nonetheless,
Ms. Pickthorne hired Ms. Seaquist based on her performance as an on-call
employee for Health.
after Ms. Seaquist was employed as a regular employee in the County Health
Department, Multnomah County Detention Center, where her duties involved
maintaining records on inmates, the Human Resources Manager, Suzanne Kahn,
received a call from a person who was concerned over the fact that Ms. Seaquist
was working at the Detention Center because she had been terminated from the
Department of Community Justice.
Seaquist signed a document acknowledging she had read and understood that any
violation of County policies, including those on confidentiality and
truthfulness, could result in her termination.
The County has detailed policies related to employees’ dealings with
Kahn contacted Ms. Pickthorne to find out if Ms. Seaquist had access to
confidential information. Ms. Pickthorne said Seaquist had access to confidential
medical records and the Sheriff’s Warrants Information System, computer
programs showing inmate location in jail facilities and booking information, but
that she was not concerned about Ms. Seaquist having such access.
Kahn learned from the Department of Community Justice that Ms. Seaquist had
resigned on her final day of a fifteen-day suspension without pay pending
dismissal. Ms. Pickthorne and a
deputy director met with Ms. Seaquist at the direction of Ms. Kahn.
Ms. Pickthorne was directed to ask Ms. Seaquist about the circumstances
under which she left her position with the Department of Community Justice, to
take her identification badge and to place Ms. Seaquist on paid administrative
leave pending an investigation into her employment with the Department of
the meeting on June 14, 2000, Ms. Pickthorne asked Ms. Seaquist about the
circumstances of her leaving the Department of Community Justice.
She said she was asked to resign and she did so.
She also said someone else had requested her son’s criminal record
three times and she was accused of doing it.
June 23, 2000, Suzanne Kahn issued written notification to Ms. Seaquist that
charges of lying to her supervisor and misrepresentation on her employment
application had been brought against her, and if the charges were confirmed, she
could be dismissed. The
notification listed the basis of the two charges and concluded by stating that
if the Health Department had known about the circumstances under which she
resigned her employment with the County in 1999, she would not have been hired.
The notice also said she should have been truthful in explaining the
circumstances under which she left her previous position with the County.
Ms. Seaquist was given an opportunity to rebut the charges.
At a later meeting with Ms. Kahn, Ms. Seaquist did not change her story
from the one she had told in June.
July 7, 2000, Ms. Kahn wrote Ms. Seaquist a letter of suspension, effective July
10, and dismissal, effective July 25. The
reasons were those specified in Ms. Kahn’s June 23 letter to her.
SUMMARY OF THE EMPLOYER’S POSITION
County contends it had just cause to suspend and subsequently dismiss Ms.
Seaquist. There was substantial
proof that she was guilty as charged and the degree of discipline imposed by the
County was reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the record
of her service.
is ample proof that Mr. King did not ask Ms. Seaquist to resign.
His testimony was corroborated by the testimony of Sample, Griffiths and
Watkins. They all discussed her
resignation at meetings with her, but she was not asked to resign, offered any
inducement to resign, or threatened. The
meetings were polite with no screaming or shouting taking place.
Ms. Seaquist was not truthful when she told Ms. Pickthorne and Ms. Burrow
she had been asked to resign.
the June 14, 2000, meeting with Pickthorne and Burrow, Ms. Seaquist said it was
unexpected and she did not have time to prepare.
No preparation was needed to be truthful.
Moreover, although she had ample opportunity to prepare for her meeting
with Ms. Kahn on July 28, she did not change her story.
Seaquist knowingly omitted relevant information from her employment application
by not stating the reason she left her position with the Department of Community
Justice. Her explanation for the
omission as an oversight was unlikely at best given the detailed information on
the rest of the page.
Seaquist said she created the page containing her employment history while she
was still working at the Department of Community Justice and updated it later
but failed to enter the reason she left. The
explanation is implausible, however, because she had to update the page to show
her last date of employment and her ending salary.
She also had to update it to show other employment after she left.
violates a fundamental principle of the employer-employee relationship and is
grounds for discharge. Even absent
a specific policy, honesty is a trait of character an employer has a right to
expect. Dishonesty destroys the trust that is essential in the
Seaquist signed a statement on June 13, 2000 acknowledging she read and
understood the policy requiring employees to be truthful.
It stated that any violation could result in termination.
failure on Ms. Seaquist’s part to state the reason she left her position with
the Department of Community Justice amounts to dishonesty by concealment.
It was misrepresentation by omission rather than commission. The Department would not have hired her if the circumstances
under which she left Community Justice had been known.
SUMMARY OF THE UNION’S POSITION
Union maintains the County did not have just cause to suspend and terminate Ms.
Seaquist because she did not lie to her supervisor or make a misrepresentation
on her employment application. Although
the County claims she omitted information from her employment application and
later was untruthful when she was questioned about it by her supervisor, that is
not the case.
Seaquist was set up for failure when she met with Ms. Pickthorne and Ms. Burrow
on June 14, 20900. She had no
reason to expect the type of meeting that occurred.
She believed her situation with the Department of Community Correction
was behind her. Personnel records showed she had resigned.
the June 14 meeting Ms. Seaquist was as truthful as she could be under the
circumstances. She resigned her
former County position because she was forced to resign or be fired.
Her resignation was not voluntary.
factors must be considered to determine if an employer has proven falsification
and whether a reasonable penalty has been imposed.
Those are whether: (1) the employee intentionally engaged in the conduct,
(2) the employee was motivated by financial or other gain, (3) the falsification
had a significant effect on the employer’s business or the grievant’s
co-workers, the employer relies upon a policy that prohibits the falsification,
(4) the employee violated specific contract language, (5) the employee has a
good work record, and (6) the employee tried to cover up the alleged
Seaquist’s answers to the questions asked on June 14, did not justify
discharge. Suzanne Kahn wanted her
terminated. Nothing Ms. Seaquist
could have said would have mattered.
respect to the misrepresentation issue, leaving a blank space on an employment
application should not be grounds for discipline.
It was not that she made a statement or a claim that later turned out to
Ms. Seaquist violated a rule when she did not specifically explain why she
resigned then so did the Department of Community Corrections.
The Department would only say she resigned.
Seaquist’s work record with the Health Department is clean.
She did not violate any confidentiality statement, rule or policy.
There is no rule in the County that requires a reinstated employee to
explain why she resigned her previous employment with the County.
Health Department’s act of dismissing Ms. Seaquist is nothing more than firing
her because of her situation with the Department of Community Corrections, not
her answers on June 14, 2000. Mr.
King did not have to accept her resignation.
He could have said the dismissal stands.
Instead, he accepted her resignation and wished her luck.
suspension and dismissal of Ms. Seaquist was excessive and unreasonable.
She should not have received
Seaquist had no forewarning that if she was not accurate in her answers she
would be fired. There was no rule
requiring employees to give details of why they resigned.
The County made no effort to discover whether she violated a rule.
The County’s investigation was not fair. (Citing Enterprise Wire
Co., 46 LA 359 (Daugherty, 1966.)
of the employment application may be grounds for discharge where the
misrepresentation was deliberate, material to the employment at the time of
hiring and at the time of discharge and was acted upon promptly by the employer.
Intent is significant in falsification cases.
To uphold a discharge, it must be found that the employee intentionally
falsified the document. Inadvertent
errors and honest mistakes will not support a discharge.
The primary focus in falsification cases is generally on materiality and
misrepresentation must be on a subject that is material to the employer and it
must have been deliberate.
dishonesty exists in any form, it violates the fundamental principles of the
employee-employer relationship. Put
another way, where an employee intentionally falsified documents, it impairs the
employer has the burden in a falsification case to prove the employee acted as
alleged. The quantum of proof
necessary to carry that burden is somewhat greater in falsification cases than
in cases not involving moral turpitude.
of the reasons the County suspended and later dismissed Ms. Seaquist was her
failure to show on her employment application the reason she left her position
with the Department of Community Justice. Although
she said the omission was a mere oversight, the more plausible explanation is
that it was a deliberate omission on her part.
the totality of the protracted and profound circumstances surrounding her
pending dismissal from the Department of Community Justice by Michael King, it
would require an act of faith to credit her testimony on that point.
She gave detailed information on the rest of the page.
The blank space beside the reason-for-leaving phrase is portentous.
It would be unlikely she would inadvertently omit such information from
the application knowing she had resigned while on suspension pending dismissal
on serious charges. Contrary to what Ms. Seaquist asserted, the fact was she was
not asked to resign her employment with Community Justice, she chose to resign
immediately before she was to be discharged because she added her son to her
case load, a clear violation of policy.
Seaquist’s failure to state the real reason she had to leave the Department of
Community Justice was material to her hiring by the Department of Health.
Had the Department known about the circumstances under which she had to
leave her previous County employer, she would not have been hired.
The Department of Health deals with confidential information and its
employees’ judgment must be trusted. To
have an employee who had been terminated, in effect, for misuse of confidential
information, would have presented an unacceptable risk.
if the Health Department had contemplated a lesser penalty than discharge, it
could not have kept Ms. Seaquist on as an employee because it was likely the
Sheriff’s department would have revoked
her security pass and she would not be able to get into the physical facilities.
There were no positions in the Department that did not require a security
pass. In any location, she would
have had access to confidential information. Her judgment regarding misuse of such information had been
established, despite the fact she had been trained and warned about it.
The misrepresentation Ms. Seaquist made on her employment application was
material to the County at the time of her discharge.
other allegation made by the County for dismissing Ms. Seaquist was that she
lied to her supervisor. At the meeting with Ms. Pickthorne and Ms. Burrow, Ms.
Seaquist was asked about her omission on the employment application.
She said she was asked to resign. That
statement is contrary to all the other evidence on the record.
She was not asked to resign, she was on suspension pending dismissal when
she chose to resign rather than be dismissed, a fact she must have been well
aware of when she omitted the reasons-for-leaving part of the employment
is no evidence to support a conclusion that Ms. Seaquist was set up for failure
at the meeting with Ms. Pickthorne and Ms. Burrow.
Short notice and lack of preparation does not justify deliberate
untruthfulness. The Department’s
policies require truthfulness and Ms. Seaquist knew that.
Truthfulness is basic to the employment relationship and critical to the
Department’s operations. Ms.
Seaquist’s brief good work record at the Health Department does not serve to
mitigate the penalty imposed for her misrepresentation and falsification.
to the Union’s arguments, it is altogether proper to consider Ms. Seaquist’s
conduct while she was an employee at the Department of Community Justice.
It was her behavior there that, if it had been known to Health, would
have precluded her employment by Health. Her
failure to make an accurate representation on the application necessitated and
warranted the subsequent investigation and inquiry by Health.
the reason set forth above, I have determined the County had just cause to
suspend and subsequently dismiss Ms. Seaquist from her employment.
Accordingly, I will enter an award.
grievance is denied.
Dated this the _____ day of March 2001.
Jack H. Calhoun