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RWD #1 lawsuits reach district court

by Clarke Davis

Two lawsuits originally filed in Shawnee County against Rural Water District No. 1, Meriden, have been moved to Jefferson County District Court.

René Keller, Topeka, a former employee who was fired by the board, is one plaintiff and the second is Tristan Charbonneau, Topeka, the maintenance contractor. Keller is also suing Rod Bigham, board chairman, individually.

Keller seeks in excess of $100,000 for each of five counts of retaliatory discharge based on whistle blowing, defamation, and emotional distress. Charbonneau is seeking in excess of $100,000 for breach of contract.

Keller was employed by the district from October 2002 until she was fired in July 2011. In her petition she explains that it was part of her duties to question things and report to the board problems she was finding with Bigham, who at that time was the maintenance contractor for the distric, a job he’d held for approximately 20 years.

When the board began to investigate Keller’s complaints, Bigham voluntarily resigned. “Shortly thereafter, Bigham began an orchestrated campaign to retaliate against plaintiff Keller for the role she played in blowing the whistle on his operation and causing him to step down as operator . . .”

She accuses Bigham of recruiting individuals to dig up information on her and her boyfriend. The petition states that in January 2011 he told a resident that she was having sexual relations with board members and other patrons and “receiving raises and given total access to the district’s checkbook.”

In February 2011 Bigham was elected to the board along with three other members and was soon appointed chairman.

“Bigham called a special meeting of the Board of Directors for the Water District seven days after being elected for purposes of terminating Ms. Keller,” the petition states.

While this first attempt failed, she claims he began making false and defaming accusations about her performance, her actions as district manager, and her handling of funds and resources.

Those accusations, which she states were made in public, made claims that she orchestrated a break-in at the office, set up bank debit payments to steal money from patrons, and had failed to read meters and was falsifying records.

The petition seeks compensation for having had her reputation damaged and exposing her to hatred, contempt, ridicule and depriving her of public confidence and public acceptance.

“As a result . . . plaintiff has had difficulty in finding another job, has incurred loss of past and future wages, and suffered extreme emotional distress . . . [causing her to] seek personal counseling.”

Charbonneau, who does business as Charbonneau Excavating, was contracted to work for the district Nov. 1, 2010. He was let go in July last year, the same time that Keller was dismissed.

He claims that under the contract either party could terminate the agreement with a 90-day notice and that the board failed to give that required notice.

He cites loss of wages, financial difficulty because he had purchased equipment to do the job, and early termination jeopardized his certification to operate a water supply system because he was enrolled in an operator-in-training program.

Short URL: http://www.jeffcountynews.com/?p=13004

Posted by on Jun 6 2012. Filed under County News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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