York County settles 911 dispatch center lawsuit for $50,000, agrees to new training

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County has settled a lawsuit from a former 911 dispatch center employee who alleged a hostile work environment, among other complaints.

Last week, the county's elected Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a settlement with former 911 center employee Rebecca Conners. Conners, one of several people who raised concerns about dysfunction in the department, sued the county last April in federal court. She alleged the county violated her federal civil rights protections while working as a supervisor.

An employee talks with a co-worker at the York County 911 Center Monday, July 31, 2017.

As per the terms of the settlement agreement, the county will pay $32,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages to Conners as a well as $18,000 in legal fees to her attorney, Adam Lease.

County officials had initially refused to provide the settlement document but released it late Monday afternoon.

President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Commissioner Ron Smith didn't respond to requests for comment. Commissioner Doug Hoke declined comment on personnel matters.

Conners declined comment through Lease.

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York County's 911 center has had a tumultuous history, including issues retaining staff members.

Conners, who is bisexual and was in a relationship with a transgender woman at the time of the lawsuit, sought reimbursement that included back pay and bonuses, as well as damages.

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In addition to the monetary compensation, the county agreed to additional training at the center to include diversity and inclusion issues, including LGBTIQA+ issues. According to the agreement, training will also include information about bullying, bias, prejudice and stereotypes in the workplace, and how to build relationships.

During her time at the center, Conners developed an impression that deputy director Christopher Lorenzen discriminated against women and lesbians, according to the lawsuit. Lorenzen could not be reached for comment.

"In an annual performance evaluation dated Dec. 17, 2022 (following complaints of discrimination by Plaintiff), Lorenzen rated Plaintiff “unsatisfactory” as to interpersonal relationships in the workplace and “needs improvement” as to leadership for a single instance of her expressing opposition to being yelled at by him in a staff meeting," the complaint reads.

Conners emailed Wheeler with complaints that the department was a hostile work environment, noting alleged discrimination against women and on the basis of sexual orientation. According to the lawsuit, Conners' complaints were ignored when she took them up the chain of command.

Wheeler was recently the subject of a cease-and-desist letter by outgoing solicitor Michèlle Pokrifka for alleged disparaging remarks made by the elected president commissioner after Pokrifka submitted her letter of resignation. Wheeler, when approached in person on the matter last week, declined comment. She has not responded to other requests for comment.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, at a recent public event.

According to Conners' filings, the former 911 center employee filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2021. A meeting that had been scheduled in January 2022 with high-level management to speak about her experience was canceled and not rescheduled.

She was terminated a month later.

"[Conners] was given a barrage of vague reasons for her termination such as targeting another employee, dishonesty, and other generic termination policy terminology," the lawsuit reads.

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In further proceedings before the EEOC, York County claimed Conners had been terminated because she had sought a "high volume" of recorded calls through the 911 center's internal system. Lease argued that due to Conners being a training supervisor, requesting recorded calls was within her purview and that she had been asked to do so by another manager.

In the filing, Lease said his client had never been told that requesting too many calls would be construed as a policy violation.

"A simple verbal discussion would have been more than sufficient to avoid voluminous requests in the future," the filing reads. "Other employees or management engaged in substantial policy violations and were not terminated, let alone the subject of major discipline."

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In their own filing, York County's attorneys disputed Conners' assertions, arguing that Conners and another employee — who was also LGBTQ — who were terminated had requested 579 calls of a specific employee without obtaining authorization from Lorenzen.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.

Settlement_Agreement - DocumentCloud