Missoula County recently agreed to pay four former Partnership Health Center staffers $189,000 to settle allegations that clinic management fostered a hostile workplace and forced them to work unpaid overtime.
“It was resolved amicably,” says Great Falls attorney Elizabeth Best, who represented the plaintiffs in all four lawsuits.
Partnership is a nonprofit community health center that serves more than 10,000 repeat patients each year. A board of directors governs the clinic, while Missoula County facilitates the clinic’s human resources and payroll.
The largest of the four settlements went to Partnership’s former Dental Practice Manager Patricia Morgan, who is receiving $80,000 after working at Partnership for two years. According to the lawsuit, Partnership Executive Director Kim Mansch placed “onerous expectations” on Morgan. She required her to work more than 40 hours a week and “when she reported her overtime hours she was threatened with discipline.”
Morgan claimed the hostile work environment forced her to “seek medical treatment, counseling, and medication” and that after returning from time off she was wrongfully fired. Morgan sued to recoup unpaid overtime and for damages.
Alison Forney-Gorman, who served as Partnership’s medical director between 2006 and 2010, also alleged that she was wrongfully terminated after being subjected to a hostile work environment. Specifically, Gorman said Mansch used abusive language to create “a culture of fear and intimidation through her management actions, targeting of specific employees for discipline and termination…”
The county paid Forney-Gorman $62,500 to settle her claims and $22,500 to put to rest similar allegations from former Partnership Medical Records Coordinator Lisa Nelson. Shawnel Trenary, Partnership’s former medical receptionist, received $24,000.
The county is paying to settle the claims with money set aside annually by the Board of County Commissioners to pay such liabilities. The settlement agreements between the county and the former staffers specifically note that they don’t constitute an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Mansch has denied the allegations.
Commissioner Bill Carey, who also serves on the Partnership board of directors, says he would have liked to fight the claims in court, but that ongoing litigation likely would have been too costly. “Sometimes it’s better to make a deal, limit your loss and move on,” Carey says.