Fired elections workers lose 2nd lawsuit

6/12/2013
BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lange
Lange

Two fired employees of the Lucas County Board of Elections have lost their second case for wrongful termination.

Mettler
Mettler

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Myron Duhart ruled in May the board acted legally when it fired Kelly Mettler, an elections manager, and Dennis Lange, a poll-worker recruiter, on Aug. 2, 2011. But Judge Duhart declined to dismiss the secretary of state from the case.

Attorney Kevin Greenfield has refiled Mr. Lange's and Ms. Mettler's complaint against the secretary of state with the Ohio Court of Claims in Columbus.

The elections board deadlocked 2-2 to fire five Republican employees who were accused of not cooperating with the new Republican leadership of the board.

Board employees work at-will.

On Aug. 8, 2011, Assistant Secretary of State Scott Borgemenke, acting on behalf of Secretary of State Jon Husted, broke the tie in favor of firing Mr. Lange and Ms. Mettler, but not the other three.

Ms. Mettler and Mr. Lange seek back pay and reinstatement to their jobs, claiming the firing was based on retaliation. That claim was rejected in February by the State Personnel Board of Review, though an appeal is pending in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

The Court of Claims case contends Mr. Borgemenke was not allowed to break the tie because the secretary of state can delegate his tie-breaking authority only if he is disabled or absent from the office, Mr. Greenfield said.

He said Mr. Husted signed a directive on petitions referendums the same day, proving that he was in the office.

“They're committed to taking this through to the conclusion of the court process,” Mr. Greenfield said of his clients.

The two Republicans claimed they were dismissed because they reported or investigated what they considered to be wrongdoing by Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook, who is also a member of the elections board.

A personnel hearing officer rejected the claim, saying they were not whistleblowers because their reports were ordered by supervisors, their reports came after the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office was probing the issue, or they were not the authors of the reports.

Mr. Borgemenke said in a court filing that Ms. Mettler of Holland and Mr. Lange of Toledo were uncooperative with the new elections board management, and said the Republican leadership was justified in removing them.

“The refusal of Ms. Mettler and Mr. Lange to cooperate with the board management was a more-serious impedance to the smooth functioning of the board than was the behavior of the others,” Mr. Borgemenke said in the deposition.

Elections Board Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler declined comment.

Mr. Stainbrook said he welcomed the ruling and said the lawsuit was “an attempt to use the legal system to keep us from doing our job.”

A spokesman for Mr. Husted declined to comment.

Contract Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.