- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - An investigator for the Montana Human Rights Bureau has found reasonable cause to believe a Missoula County sheriff’s deputy faced discrimination and retaliation because of his support of a co-worker’s candidacy for sheriff.

Deputy Jason Johnson filed a discrimination complaint with the bureau in June 2013, just over a month after he was removed from his position as public information officer for the sheriff’s department. He believed Sheriff Carl Ibsen removed him because of his support of Detective Sgt. T.J. McDermott’s candidacy for sheriff. McDermott has said he intends to appoint Johnson as undersheriff.

“I do support T.J. McDermott who is running for sheriff. Because of that, I was removed from a job I enjoyed. That’s the root of it,” Johnson said Friday.

Johnson also filed a grievance over his demotion.

Johnson amended his complaint in August to allege he was retaliated against for filing the grievance when Ibsen informed him he would have to take vacation time to attend a meeting over the grievance. He said he also found a copy of a “Law Enforcement Oath of Honor” taped to his computer screen in July.

Bureau investigator Dennis Unsworth talked with the parties involved.

Ibsen said he told Johnson that the public information officer position was a temporary one when he was hired in 2011 and that moving Johnson to another position was not a demotion.

Johnson said the first time he heard the PIO job was temporary was when Ibsen called him into his office in April 2013 and told him he was being removed. He said he is making less money, his new position is less desirable and he lost his office.

Unsworth found that Ibsen’s explanation that the PIO job was temporary contradicted Johnson’s August 2012 evaluation, which discussed Johnson’s plans in the post over the next five years. Johnson also was recommended for a grade and pay increase.

Patrol Sgt. Bill Burt told Unsworth that McDermott and Johnson’s political aspirations were known, but the effort wasn’t seen as undercutting Ibsen, because “we all knew Ibsen was not running again.”

However, Burt said that on at least three occasions, Ibsen told him that he would “do anything within his power” to prevent McDermott from being elected, including running again himself. Burt said he believes Johnson’s involvement in the race would improve McDermott’s chances of winning the election.

Ibsen declined to comment.

Bureau staff will now try to reach a settlement in the case. If that is not possible, a hearing will be held.