Government

Johnson County settles with former employee

She filed lawsuit after being terminated in 2017

Shanti Sellz, the former local food and planning coordinator for Johnson County, leads a February 2017 tour of the Johnson County Poor Farm in Iowa City. The county this week settled a lawsuit Sellz had filed against the county following her termination later in 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Shanti Sellz, the former local food and planning coordinator for Johnson County, leads a February 2017 tour of the Johnson County Poor Farm in Iowa City. The county this week settled a lawsuit Sellz had filed against the county following her termination later in 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Johnson County and a former employee have settled a lawsuit the employee filed against the county.

Shanti Sellz, the county’s former local food and planning coordinator, has dropped all claims against the county and her former boss, Josh Busard, the county’s planning, development and sustainability director, according to the settlement agreement filed Friday.

Those claims include assault, retaliation, violations of due process and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Current and former members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors were dropped from the lawsuit earlier this year.

“She’s ready to move on to a new, more productive chapter,” said Iowa City attorney Rockne Cole, who represented Sellz.

According to documents filed in the case, Sellz met with Busard on May 17, 2017, to discuss her use of flex time off.

Sellz alleges Busard spoke in a “loud aggressive tone” and lunged at her from across his desk. Busard did not make contact with Sellz, court documents state.

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After the May incident, Sellz began experiencing physical and mental stress, including sleeplessness, nausea and panic attacks at work, according to court documents.

In June 2017, a medical practitioner approved medical leave for Sellz. As her sick leave expired, Sellz sought more time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Sellz’s medical practitioner filled out the paperwork June 13, 2017. Later that day, Sellz received a “pre-termination” letter from Busard for “excessive use of sick leave, and for not using the proper channel to report her sick leave,” according to court documents.

The county responded that Sellz’s termination was unrelated to her Family and Medical Leave Act request. Her termination was upheld by the Board of Supervisors in October 2017.

The county’s human resources department and grievance review board followed up on Sellz’s claims and found against Sellz, the county said Friday. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission also did not find her claims warranted an investigation.

Under the settlement, all claims are dismissed against the county, and the county does not admit any wrongdoing.

“The parties agree this settlement does not provide any compensation to Ms. Sellz for the alleged May 17, 2017, assault,” the settlement reads.

Sellz will receive $81,959 — $43,368 in wages; $16,000 for compensatory damages; and $22,591 for payment of her legal fees.

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“It is my sincere hope that Johnson County can learn from this process and change their protocols that allow for workers in Johnson County to express their concerns for safety and health in their workplace without fear of retaliation,” Sellz said in a statement. “This should never happen to anyone else.”

The supervisors voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the settlement at the recommendation of Amy Reasner, attorney for the Iowa Community Assurance Pool, Johnson County’s risk pool carrier.

“Reasner stated that the many hours needed for preparation and a five-day jury trial set for December 2019 would be a distraction from the county’s business not only for Busard and the board members, but also employees in various departments who would be called to testify,” the county said in a news release.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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