County files response in lawsuit

John Richmeier

Leavenworth County commissioners and the county treasurer deny claims that a former employee was fired because she was a whistleblower.

County commissioners and Treasurer Janice Van Parys argue former county employee Michele Connel “was discharged for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons.”

The argument is made in a written response to a lawsuit filed by Connel. The response was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by an attorney representing the commissioners and Van Parys.

The response from commissioners and Van Parys does not state the reasons why Connel was terminated.

Connel previously worked in the County Treasurer’s Office as a motor vehicle deputy.

Last month, Connel filed the lawsuit alleging she was fired in January by Van Parys in retaliation for cooperating with a law enforcement investigation of a theft at the Treasurer’s Office and raising concerns about the office.

Connel alleges in the lawsuit that Van Parys has employed family members in the Treasurer’s Office despite a county government policy that prohibits nepotism.

The response filed on behalf of the commissioners and Van Parys acknowledges the treasurer has employed family members and that the county has a policy against nepotism. But they argue the policy does not apply to elected officials.

Van Parys was elected to the position of county treasurer.

During a County Commission meeting on Wednesday, County Administrator Mark Loughry said Kansas officials have ruled a county nepotism policy cannot be applied to elected officials who run departments.

The response filed Thursday on behalf of county commissioners and Van Parys also argues that a decision to promote a daughter-in-law of Van Parys to the position of assistant motor vehicle deputy in May 2019 was made by Connel not the treasurer.

The response, which was filed by Overland Park attorney Andrew Holder, denies that Connel had expressed a belief to Van Parys that her daughter-in-law was using illegal drugs. The response also denies that Connel told Van Parys she believed the treasurer’s daughter-in-law was responsible for the theft of cash from the office.

In her lawsuit, Connel claims she expressed concerns she had about the daughter-in-law and the Treasurer’s Office when speaking in December 2019 with a detective who was investigating the theft.

The lawsuit claims Connel spoke with a detective from the Leavenworth Police Department.

But the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office is the law enforcement agency that is investigating the theft. Undersheriff Jim Sherley said the matter is still under investigation.

Connel also alleges in her lawsuit that the county did not properly compensate her for overtime. This is something that is denied in the response from the county commissioners and treasurer.

The response denies a claim that Connel regularly worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

The response also denies that commissioners and the treasurer violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by refusing to compensate Connel for all of the hours she worked.

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