Elbert County

Lawsuit alleges Elbert County illegally monitored employee's emails, defamed her

Director of community and development services names board of commissioners, county officials in complaint

Staff report
Posted 4/18/17

Elbert County's director of community and development services has filed a lawsuit claiming her emails were improperly intercepted and monitored by the county and that county officials made defamatory statements intended to embarrass her.

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Elbert County

Lawsuit alleges Elbert County illegally monitored employee's emails, defamed her

Director of community and development services names board of commissioners, county officials in complaint

Posted

Elbert County's director of community and development services has filed a lawsuit claiming her emails were improperly intercepted and monitored by the county and that county officials made defamatory statements intended to embarrass her.

Kyle Fenner, who has worked for the county since May 2013, has experienced "humiliation, anger, anxiety, emotional distress, frustration and embarrassment" because of the officials' actions, the lawsuit states.

The suit, which was filed last month in U.S. District Court, alleges officials invaded Fenner's privacy and created "a hostile work environment" from late 2015 through the summer of 2016.

The complaint names the following as defendants:

  • The board of county commissioners
  • Robert Rowland, a county commissioner at the time who decided not to run for re-election in November
  • County Manager Ed Ehmann
  • County Attorney Wade Gateley

The suit states officials had been monitoring Fenner's county-issued computer since Sept. 24, 2015, "collecting over 50,000 screen shots from Plaintiff's open desktop."

In April 2016, the county contracted the Mountain States Employers Council to do a "workplace investigation" on Fenner, centering on her use of the internet during work hours. The county believed she was using her work computer for "personal or commercial ventures or gain" and to send "demeaning" and "defaming" emails about county employees and elected officials, according to the lawsuit.

MSEC completed its investigation on May 12, 2016 and referred its finding to a special counsel for review and to make recommendations, the suit states.

The special counsel concluded that the allegations of policy violations for misuse of county issued computers were not credible, but recommended that Fenner "be reminded that county issued computers are not for personal use, and reprimanded for having made 'demeaning, disparaging or insulting' comments via email," according to the suit.

Those comments, however, did not affect Fenner's work and were made on her private email server, according to the lawsuit. The special counsel emphasized that "nothing close to criminal activity was found."

But, the suit says, county officials, including Rowland, on multiple occasions publicly referenced a "criminal investigation" against Fenner.

The 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office did not conduct a criminal investigation into the matter, a spokeswoman confirmed April 18.

The suit seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages, plus attorney fees. Attorney Lark Fogel, based in Elizabeth, is representing Fenner.

Gateley told the Elbert County News he could not comment on the litigation.

Elbert County's three-member board of commissioners has completely turned over since the fall of last year, with two members deciding not to seek re-election and another resigning before the expiration of her term.

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