Douglas County Chief Finance Officer Jessica Hansen’s $4.5 million lawsuit against former county assessor Roger Hartman over alleged harassment and whistle-blower retaliation was dismissed Friday. It appears the dismissal followed a settlement agreement between the parties, but the details of that settlement have not been made public.
Hartman declined to comment, and Hansen could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The News-Review this week obtained a copy of an earlier settlement between Hansen and the Douglas County government, which had also been a defendant in the case.
On June 1, the Douglas County government agreed to pay Hansen $120,000 and her attorney $20,000. In exchange, Hansen dropped her lawsuit against the county and two other defendants, former county commissioner Gary Leif and assessor’s department employee Frank Lassen. Hartman was not part of that settlement agreement.
Hansen filed her lawsuit in August 2017. In it, she alleged that Hartman, Leif and Lassen, along with another defendant, Larry Saccato, had worked together to retaliate against her after she questioned Hartman’s ethics and competence. She had also accused Hartman of harassment for alleged gender-based insults.
Saccato, the only defendant who was not a county official, subsequently filed a $2.5 million countersuit against Hansen. His countersuit also named Commissioners Chris Boice and Tim Freeman, along with two other department heads, bringing the number of individual parties involved to nine. The countersuit was dismissed in March.
The conflict between Hansen and Hartman began soon after Hartman took office in 2015. Hartman viewed Hansen as controlling and bureaucratic. Hansen said Hartman referred to her using names like “bitch,” among other slurs.
Early on, Hartman objected to Hansen’s decision to build a wall that would keep Hartman and his friends out of the tax office when her office was closed. Hansen alleged Hartman had lowered property assessments for his friends.
Hansen alleged that the four individual defendants worked together to retaliate against her through Saccato, who used public information requests and letters to try to convince county officials that Hansen wasn’t qualified to hold her office and to allege she had committed mail fraud by sending out tax statements before she had a tax collector’s bond.
Saccato filed a motion to strike Hansen’s lawsuit against him, claiming it was retaliation against him for exercising his legal rights. His motion was denied in May.
In July, Saccato filed a request with the court seeking 24 admissions from Hansen. He wanted her to “admit” his actions hadn’t interfered with her employment, and that he had the rights to request public records and petition government officials for the redress of grievances, among other things. He also asked her to say her employment was unaffected by his actions. Hansen filed a response Friday denying most of Saccato’s claims. Her response acknowledged Saccato had the right to request records and petition for grievances, but denied he had the right to do those things “for the purpose of intentionally causing plaintiff severe emotional distress or for other improper purposes.”
Hartman retired in July, five months before his term would have ended. Heather Coffel, who was elected in May to replace Hartman, now heads the department.