Case decided; Judge finds for DSPUD in job termination suit
A Truckee judge decided against the plaintiff in a wrongful termination case against the Donner Summit Public Utility District board of directors last week in Truckee Municipal Court.
Truckee resident and former DSPUD employee Joy Grude sought action against the DSPUD board for what she said was a “discriminatory firing” after she and another district employee removed board meeting tapes from the district office in February. Grude was fired and the other employee wasn’t.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “Their actions were clearly discriminatory.”
DSPUD General Manager Steve Grimm said the board was pleased to have prevailed in the case.
“The ruling was fair,” he said. “There were two issues that we believe solidified our case.”
The two issues Grimm pointed out were Grude’s “at will employment” status at the time of dismissal and the DSPUD’s good faith effort in investigating Grude’s actions before terminating her employment.
“We did what had to be done (in Grude’s case),” he said. “The other employee acted differently.”
The case began when Grude was promoted by past district general manager Jim Tesser in June 1996. Grude contends Tesser said her promotion to administrative assistant and the associated pay raise was approved by the board.
She continued to work with the raise until the board questioned whether Tesser had sought the appropriate approval from the board. District president Dale Verner raised the question.
Grude said the board had always known of the raise as someone from the board was required to sign paychecks.
“They knew all along that I had gotten a promotion,” Grude said. “All of a sudden, everyone seemed to forget.”
Grude said it was then when she wanted to review the meeting tapes to here comments on her promotion. The other employee, whose promotion had also been questioned, also wanted to listen to the tapes.
“Jim (Tesser) told us that the tapes were open to the public,” she said. “He never said they were not to be removed from the office.
“When I checked them out, I left a note so everyone would know where the tape was. I never would have taken it if I thought I was doing something wrong.”
Paul Rosenlund, stand-in judge in Truckee Municipal Court, did.
Although Rosenlund could not comment on his decision, Grimm said he though the judge ruled in favor of the district because of Grude’s “clear” violation of public policy.
Grimm questioned Grude in court, “Did you type the district’s policies Tesser gave you?”
“Yes,” Grude replied.
“Didn’t this document list the policies referring to removing district property from the premises?” he asked.
“Yes,” Grude again replied.
Questioning continued about under what circumstances Grude took the tapes and she continued to defend herself saying Tesser told her it was ok to remove the tapes.
Testimony included Verner’s reaction to the removal of the tapes.
Grude said the district’s secretary called her at home in February and asked if she had the tapes. The secretary told Grude Verner wanted the tapes back when she returned to work the next day. Grude brought back the tapes and was handed a termination letter upon arrival at her office.
“Verner treated me like a criminal that day,” she said. “He threw me out of the office.
“I thought I was following procedure all along.”
Grude said she felt discriminated against because the other employee who had taken a tape the same day was not investigated as she was.
Grude was initially seeking $32,000 in total damages, including lost wages. She said her attorney advised her to pursue the issue in small claims court, which she did, asking $5,000.
Grude said, “The decision just isn’t fair.”
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