- Associated Press - Thursday, November 1, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts fired a state agency director Thursday who allegedly failed to address complaints that a temporary employee bullied, sexually harassed and discriminated against women.

Byron Diamond, the director of the Department of Administrative Services, was dismissed because he didn’t act even after he was made aware of the inappropriate behavior in November 2017, Ricketts said in a press conference call. The unnamed employee accused of the harassment was also fired.

“I was angry and disappointed with the behavior of Director Diamond,” Ricketts said. “We have high standards with regard to how we expect people to behave, especially when they’re in a leadership role.”

Ricketts said several female workers complained that the temporary employee was dismissive, combative, interrupted them when they tried to talk and sexually harassed them. He declined to give specifics, saying he wanted to respect the privacy of those affected.

Ricketts said he was made aware of the allegations and Diamond’s alleged failure to respond on Wednesday, when the state’s chief human resources officer presented him with the results of a roughly three-week investigation that included interviews with 20 people. Ricketts said Diamond offered to resign, but the governor chose to fire him instead.

Diamond did not immediately respond to a message left on his cellphone seeking comment.

The temporary employee was hired to work on a project called “Program fuzioN,” an effort to make state operations such as payroll, accounting and employee benefits more efficient and user-friendly by converting them to a cloud-based platform.

The Department of Administrative Services is an umbrella agency within state government that handles human resources, accounting, state contracts, building services, personnel and employee relations. Ricketts appointed Diamond as the director in March 2015, calling him a “great addition to our team” at the time because of his experience as a U.S. Army veteran and executive at an Omaha technology-services company.

Diamond “made the decision that he wanted to keep this person on to try to keep the project going,” Ricketts said of the temporary worker. “In my opinion, that was not the call to make. We value our teammates.”

As director, Diamond earned nearly $119,000 a year. Ricketts said he will not receive any severance benefits.

John Antonich, the head of the union that represents most state employees, said he was surprised by the allegations against Diamond and had not heard any complaints from workers in the department.

Ricketts said Ed Toner, the state’s chief information technology officer, will take over Diamond’s role on a temporary basis, in addition to his current duties.

State Sen. Bob Krist, the Democratic candidate for governor, noted that other appointees of the Republican Ricketts have been fired or resigned for bad decisions and behavior.

Former Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Max Kelch stepped down in January amid sexual harassment allegations, less than two years after Ricketts appointed him.

In July 2017, Ricketts fired Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Brad Rice after an investigation found that high-ranking patrol officials tried to influence the outcome of at least four internal reviews, failed to disclose a dozen cases of trooper misconduct and didn’t properly investigate sexual misconduct accusations.

“Women should be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace,” said Krist, of Omaha. “They should not, under any circumstance, be expected to endure harassment or discrimination, and no person should work in state government who either condones, ignores or would allow this kind of behavior.”


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