Former jail worker alleges Madison County violated her rights by forbidding relationship

Sean Olson//April 3, 2013

Former jail worker alleges Madison County violated her rights by forbidding relationship

Sean Olson//April 3, 2013

A Madison County jail guard is suing her former employer, claiming the county violated her 14th Amendment rights.

Pamela Hollist resigned from her job in the detention division in 2011 after Madison County Sheriff Roy Klingler threatened her with termination if she did not break off her relationship with Daniel Little, according to a lawsuit filed by Hollist in the Idaho district of federal court March 21. Little had been convicted of a felony associated with a drunken driving arrest in 2009 and spent time in the Madison County jail for the offense.

Hollist claims in the suit that she did not have any relationship with Little while he was a prisoner at the jail, but that the two met after his release and fell in love. Nonetheless, Madison County asserted she had violated various rules of employee conduct, including a policy regarding “conflicting relationships,” and had to break away from Little or be fired.

Hollist is now suing, alleging Klingler and Madison County have not been consistent in enforcing a no-relationship rule with felons.

Hollist alleges that the county did not give the same ultimatum to her supervisor, Doug Siepert, despite the fact that his wife was convicted of grand theft and felony misuse of public funds connected to her former employment with Madison County.

“As a result of Siepert’s wife’s felony conviction and/or prior criminal record, Siepert was not disciplined or informed that he had to sever his relationship with his wife due to her status as a felon in order to become or remain employed as a captain over Madison County’s detention division,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that Madison County violated Hollist’s 14th Amendment rights because the government agency was treating her differently from other co-workers in the application of its policies.

Idaho is at an at-will employment state, so private employers can terminate employees for any reason as long as they do not discriminate against them due to age, gender, disability or other factors protected under federal law.

Government employment is a trickier proposition, but lawsuits usually contain an allegation of some sort of discrimination or other employment protection violation in state or federal laws, said Thomas J. Lloyd III, a business lawyer in Boise.

He said government agencies are allowed to set “examples” of people in other areas, such as tax collection, without violating 14th Amendment principles. Without a discrimination claim, it’s possible courts could, in general, offer the same leniency toward enforcing employment policies, he said.

Madison County Sheriff’s Office officials did not return a message requesting comment on the lawsuit.

Hollist also claims in the lawsuit that her relationship to Little, with whom she lives, was a committed one.

“Little has a parent-like relationship with (Hollist’s) children, and (Hollist’s) youngest child refers to Little as ‘dad,’” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims the county violated Hollist’s First Amendment rights to freely associate with whomever she chooses. The lawsuit adds counts that allege the county violated those same rights under Idaho law.

Hollist is seeking an unspecified amount of compensation for the loss of her job, punitive damages, attorney fees and interest.