- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

BEND, Ore. (AP) - The state paid $310,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty by a woman who alleged she was wrongfully fired.

The settlement with investigator Sharon Sweet was publicized in January, but the Oregon Department of Administrative Services did not reveal how much she got until Monday. A second employee, trial assistant Nicole Jenson, received a $10,314 settlement.

These are the fourth and fifth employment-related lawsuits involving Flaherty, and the final outstanding suit to be settled by the state on Flaherty’s behalf, The Bulletin newspaper reported (https://is.gd/tCIjpE).

Since Jan. 1, 2005, the department has paid $1.7 million in claims on employment-related lawsuits filed against all Oregon district attorneys, according to information from Penny Evans, the department’s risk manager. Of that, 80 percent has been for cases involving Flaherty.

Flaherty fired Sweet in October 2011 - the same year he took office. He said the investigator’s work was not “consistently above expectations” and she violated personnel rules by not disclosing her involvement in a romantic relationship with another investigator.

Sweet said the DA created a hostile work environment for employees who exercised their right to protected speech.

“Only one opinion matters to Patrick Flaherty, and that is his own,” Sweet said in a statement Monday. “There is no other point of view but his.”

Flaherty did not admit liability in the settlement.

Jenson, who is still employed, said Flaherty caused hardship when he changed her schedule. Her lawsuit alleged Flaherty retaliated for a variety of issues, such as the resignation of Jenson’s mother-in-law and her participation in office unionization efforts.

Flaherty denied the allegations in his response to the lawsuit.

Three former deputy district attorneys - Phil Duong, Brentley Foster and Jody Vaughan - filed separate lawsuits after they were fired. They settled in July 2013 for a total of $710,000.

Flaherty argued his deputy district attorneys are at-will employees whom he has the right to reappoint or let go. He objected to the settlements in August, saying the state was “throwing money at meritless lawsuits.”

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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