A Basalt woman who was fired in March from her longtime job as a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy said Tuesday she takes satisfaction in knowing that, as part of the settlement she recently reached with the office, supervisors and employees will undergo workforce training.
Ann Stephenson also received a lump sum payment of $85,000 as part of the agreement, which precludes her from suing the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Joe DiSalvo fired Stephenson after she was involved in a minor traffic accident while on duty near Owl Creek Road in February. He contended that she left the scene of the accident without reporting it, while Stephenson said she alerted her supervisor a short while after her patrol vehicle clipped a truck as she was backing down Cluny Road near the airport.
The Colorado State Patrol cited her for careless driving, and DiSalvo put Stephenson, 54, on paid leave before dismissing her.
Stephenson, a nearly 30-year deputy, filed a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ahead of a planned discrimination lawsuit, which is now off the table.
Stephenson, who said she signed the EEOC mediation agreement on Oct. 31, wrote in an email Tuesday that she hopes that “anti-discrimination training” in the settlement prevents others from receiving similar treatment.
“I take some satisfaction from that,” she said in a phone interview, adding she suffered emotional distress. “I’m glad that guy [DiSalvo] is out of my life.”
But DiSalvo on Wednesday said there is nothing in the settlement about the EEOC ordering him to provide anti-discrimination training.
“As evidence of a good-faith effort” to resolve the EEOC complaint, DiSalvo agreed to “provide training for all staff on the subject of appropriate behavior in the workplace within six months,” according to the agreement, which DiSalvo released because it is a public document.
He said he and the attorney that the county used to reach the settlement, Karen Greer of Denver, are consulting with the EEOC about what the training will entail.
“There’s no mention in here of discrimination, sexual or age or gender, and I don’t want that clouding this issue,” DiSalvo said. “I think her characterization is not from this document.”
He also said he suggested the workplace sessions during the mediation in September, noting Wednesday that his office has new deputies and that veteran staff haven’t had such training in more than a decade.
“There may be some workplace things that we all could learn from,” he said. “And I’m willing to do that. It was my idea.”
DiSalvo declined comment when asked about Stephenson’s claim that he used her fender bender as a pretext to fire her.
Along with the lump-sum payment and staff training, DiSalvo also agreed to give her a neutral reference for future jobs that will involve the dates of her employment. And Stephenson’s employment record will reflect that she voluntarily resigned from a job that paid her about $72,000 a year.
While DiSalvo has maintained that he believes he took the correct action in terminating Stephenson — “Every driver, not just police officers, has the duty to report every accident,” he said in March. “I hold myself and my deputies to a higher standard.” — he said the settlement was the correct course.
He estimated that allowing litigation to go forward would have cost the county $200,000 to $300,000.
“It was not a decision I made alone,” DiSalvo said, citing discussions with Greer and county managers. “We all came to an agreement together. This was the best decision, a business decision, to save the county more money than paying attorneys.”
On one point, at least, DiSalvo and Stephenson could agree: Both are ready to move on.
“I am, again, glad to be putting this behind me,” Stephenson wrote.