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RTC paid a quarter million dollars in labor dispute with employee

By Bob Conrad

RTC denied wrongdoing, threatened “full-blown litigation” 

The Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission this week provided more information that showed the public agency in fact spent more than a quarter million dollars in a legal battle with a contracted employee it fired in 2019.

RTC commissioners on Oct. 13 approved a $107,000 settlement to a unionized employee it sought to fire in 2018. RTC this week confirmed expenses in the case were much greater.

The employee was put on paid leave in 2018 and was fired by RTC officials in 2019 even though she was an employee of MV Transportation. RTC’s David Jickling used a contractual clause to fire the employee he said was causing problems.

Two arbitrators found in favor of the employee. 

“At the heart of this case is the infamous 202 letter authored by David Jickling on behalf of RTC with the approval of its executive director,” arbitrator Michael Sullivan wrote. “David Jickling’s testimony was not credible and actually supported Plaintiff’s theory of the case.”

The firing was based in part on what the arbitrator called untrue and fallacious allegations by another employee, which he said Jickling failed to substantiate. 

“We will apply the resources and effort appropriate to full-blown litigation.”

“Her employment record is unblemished,” another arbitrator wrote. She was awarded $50,000 in damages in April.

Teamster Union Local 533, in June, issued a statement to the news media about this situation:

“Dispatcher Daleen Smothers was not only illegally fired but also barred from Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) property and libelously blackballed when she sought other employment. As a union shop steward and officer, Ms. Smothers had been involved in filing more than 200 grievances on behalf of her fellow employees. 

“She had worked for the mass transit system since 1999. Two federal arbitrators found in her favor. Her attorney Michael Langton asked for a jury trial in a related civil case accusing the RTC of ‘intentional interference with prospective employment.’”

RTC paid law firm $125,000

RTC this week confirmed that, on top of the settlement, it hired the Woodburn & Wedge law firm for $125,000 to fight in the dispute with the employee. That money came from tax dollars.

“Legal fees and costs related to matters involving the transit system are allocated to the public transportation budget and are paid for with public transit system tax revenues,” said RTC Public Information Officer Lauren Ball.

A legal settlement letter in the name of Chris Wicker of Woodburn & Wedge, provided to This Is Reno, shows RTC threatening the employee with protracted litigation, increased legal expenses and a potential financial judgment less than the $107,000 settlement.

“Both sides will likely incur fees and costs in excess of $100,000 each if this matter goes to trial,” the letter noted. “Your client has allegedly already incurred thirty thousand dollars in fees, even though very little discovery was done, and the arbitration was short.

“This litigation, should it proceed, will not be like that.”

The Wicker letter said the arbitrators made errors in their decisions and RTC was prepared to take the case to the Nevada Supreme Court.

“RTC strongly disagrees with the arbitration decision in this matter,” Wicker wrote. “RTC approached this matter as a $50,000 potential liability. Now, if this matter continues beyond our preliminary motions, we have been instructed to treat this as a full-blown litigation matter and we will apply the resources and effort appropriate to full-blown litigation.”

Wicker said Jickling, prior to firing Smothers, received information from MV Transportation and consulted with RTC officials and outside counsel before firing Smothers.

“The Arbitrator went too far in relaxing the rules of evidence by admitting and then relying on the transcript and decision in the MV-Union arbitration to which RTC was not a party, had no opportunity to present evidence, and had no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses,” it noted. “RTC will seek to exclude that information at trial. If it does come in, we will be prepared to refute it with documentation and witness testimony that corroborates Mr. Jickling’s description of events.”

Wicker also said six to 10 depositions would be needed, some of them out of state, which would rack up legal expenses.

“Certainly, your client can choose to stay at home with her children, but this is a failure to mitigate and a defense for RTC,” he added.

Union boss Gary Watson called the fight by RTC a misuse of public dollars.

“The taxpayers in our community should be just as infuriated as Teamsters Local 533,” he told This Is Reno. “Over a quarter of a million [was] spent by the RTC Washoe [in] a slipshod case from the very beginning. 

“Ms. Smothers lost her career, while the RTC Washoe gambled away a quarter of a million in public money. The ambulance-chasing law firm was the only winner, and the taxpayers won’t even get a Christmas card in return!” he added.

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