GREELEY — A disgruntled Weld County employee — who recently announced her bid for Weld County Clerk and Recorder — filed suit in U.S. District Court against her former supervisor and current clerk Carly Koppes, just one week earlier.
It’s not the first suit against Koppes as she heads into her re-election bid. Another former employee filed suit against Koppes and the Board of Weld County Commissioners in June 2017.
In the most recent filing, Elisa Kunkel claims Koppes’ retaliation and punishment against Kunkel, while Koppes was her supervisor, led Kunkel to missed work for depression and anxiety disorders.
Kunkel says in her suit filed Dec. 27 that the condition rendered her unable to do her job causing her to take intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for the better part of 2017. She also claims embarrassment, violation of First Amendment rights and reckless indifference, among other things.
Koppes said she could not comment on either suit, and Kunkel had not immediately responded to request for comment.
Kunkel, in her suit, says she began working for Weld County in 2000 and eventually became a manager in the motor vehicle department.
Kunkel says in December 2015 she had a public incident with another employee that caused trouble between her and Koppes, eventually leading to her being demoted in January 2016. She lost an initial appeal but eventually won a subsequent appeal to the Board of Weld County Commissioners.
However, Kunkel maintains Koppes forced another employee to give her a less-than favorable job evaluation. Kunkel also says she was moved to a location in southwest Weld County after she asked the Weld County Council to do an audit of the clerk’s office.
“This was done to punish Mrs. Kunkel for requesting an audit that received such publicity,” the suit says.
Soon after, Kunkel was transferred to planning and zoning by the commissioners to “separate Kunkel from Koppes.” Kunkel maintained her salary, but was put into an entry-level position, something she said is embarrassing.
To confirm Kunkel’s claims of what happened during her tenure under Koppes, Complete Colorado has repeatedly requested Kunkel’s employment records under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Colorado courts have held that the only part of government employee records that are not subject to open records are such things that are required in the day-to-day employee/employer relationship, such as personal identifying information.
However, Weld County refuses to provide the records.
In her claims for relief Kunkel says:
Her request for the audit from the County Council was a matter of public concern and the First Amendment protects her ability to do so. She asserts that Koppes punished her in violation of that right.
As a result of the punishment, the suit says Kunkel “suffers from depression and anxiety disorder, for which she is entitled to recovery from Ms. Koppes. Since April 4, 2017, Mrs. Kunkel has been on intermittent FMLA leave for anxiety disorder and depression. In addition, she is entitled to recover for her inconvenience and embarrassment of having to begin developing her working skills in the planning and zoning department at an entry-level position.”
Koppes’ actions were done with reckless indifference to the rights of Kunkel.”
Koppes caused another employee to give Kunkel a failing annual job evaluation as punishment for winning her appeal, and the punishment was retaliation.
That Kunkel has the right to redress of grievances against Koppes under the Colorado Constitution.
Kunkel asks for interest, costs, attorney’s fees, and such other relief as the court deems proper.
In the earlier suit, former employee Kimberly Aubrey claims that Koppes along with Weld County Human Resources Director Patricia Russell violated the American’s with Disabilities Act.
Aubrey now lives out of state and contact information was not available.
In her complaint, Aubrey says that current Weld County Commissioner Chairman Steve Moreno asked her to transfer from the Motor Vehicle Department to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, and subsequently the elections department, so Koppes, who was working in the election department at the time, could run for clerk and recorder.
In late December 2014, Aubrey says she was diagnosed with a serious disease that had neurological impacts, leading her to request FMLA leave. That leave was exhausted in February 2015. Aubrey says she was recovering from her illness and asked to come back to work on August, 1, 2015.
On April 15, 2015, through anther Weld employee, Weld County delivered a pre-dismissal notice and opportunity for a hearing the following day. The hearing allowed Aubrey to bring updated information from her doctor that she could do the essential functions of her job.
She was unable to provide such documentation, the suit says, and Russell told her she could not return to work with restrictions.
“It was apparent that plaintiff was either disabled or “regarded as disabled” by Patricia Russell and Carly Koppes, who refused to consider any attempt to accommodate her actual or perceived disability,” the suit says.
It goes on to say that Russell contacted Aubrey later to offer her a position in motor vehicles. Aubrey requested she not work the front line, and the suit says Russell told her “we can’t make a position just for you.”
The suit claims that “the refusal of Weld County government and Carly Koppes, its Clerk and Recorder, to engage in any process — much less, an interactive one — to determine an appropriate accommodation, so that Plaintiff could return to work in some position in the Clerk’s
Office, resulted in her pretextual, discriminatory and retaliatory termination.”
The suit also claims that “Defendants, their agents and employees routinely denied Plaintiff’s rights under the ADA/ADAAA, Rehab Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.”
The suit further accuses county officials of back-room dealings for others while being unwilling to accomdate Aubrey, but it does not give examples of those claims.
“Defendant’s discriminatory, retaliatory abuse, and mistreatment of Plaintiff lies in start (sic) contrast to Defendants’ longstanding, widespread, and ongoing “hush” payments to many of its retired or disabled employees by and through Defendants’ utilization of a myriad of clandestine “Retired Employee Employment Agreements” to such “double dippers” at the ongoing cost of millions of taxpayer dollars in order to ensure such persons’ continued silence regarding the corruption, criminality, and sheer incompetence present in the course of Defendants’ performance of its “governmental” operations and functions, including those of the Weld County Sheriff’s Office,” the suit alleges.
Aubrey says the events outlined cost her: lost income or employment compensation and fringe benefits, damage to reputation and character, credit rating or creditworthiness, emotional or mental anguish, distress, upset, humiliation, embarrassment, or degradation, pain and suffering; and other consequential, incidental, or related damages to Plaintiff’s employment rights, privileges, interests, as well as statutory interest, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
She is asking the court to award her damages plus interest, attorney fees and other relief deemed just and proper by the court.
Neither suit has a hearing date set.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.