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A document filed January 13 in the Ringgold County auditor’s office provides details of a settlement agreement between Ringgold County and deputy sheriff Landon White.
Under the settlement, White received a payroll check in the amount of $2,000 and a general check in the amount of $24,633.92. A third check for $13,226.08 was written to Duff Law Firm, PLC for White’s attorney’s fees and costs.
County auditor Amanda Waske stated the county’s liability insurance covered this claim less a $2,000 deductible
The settlement stems from a complaint filed by White accusing county officials of a violation of the state’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
According to a description from Iowa Workforce Development, “Iowa law protects an employee who reports an unsafe or unhealthy working environment. An employee is protected from retaliation by any person. The employer may be found to have retaliated against an employee if the protected activity was a contributing or motivating factor in the employer’s decision to take unfavorable action against the employee.”
Unfavorable actions may include denying promotion to a qualified employee.
The Whistleblower statute further states, “For a complaint to be considered valid, the investigation must reveal that the:
• employee engaged in protected activity
• employer knew about or suspected the protected activity
• employer took an adverse action
• protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action.”
In correspondence with the Record-News, White stated his case for qualifying under the Whistleblower protections.
White said in October 2018 he found a USB computer thumb drive in his home mailbox. The drive contained no identifying packaging or markings.
When he opened the drive on his home computer, he says he found the drive contained a surveillance video of then-sheriff Mike Sobotka engaged in compromising behavior with a subordinate county employee.
White said he gave the drive to county supervisor chair Kraig Pennington.
“By giving this video to Pennington,” White stated, “I reported wrongdoing by a public official and was thereby protected from retaliation under Iowa’s whistleblower statute.”
An internal and confidential investigation ensued.
Following Sobotka’s resignation in November 2018, Chief Deputy Rob Haley assumed the duties of sheriff, leaving a vacancy in the position of Chief Deputy.
According to White’s correspondence, “On August 2, 2019, Sheriff Haley met with me to discuss who would fill the Chief Deputy position. Sheriff Haley told me that he was promoting Nathan Nickle as Chief Deputy, even though Nickle had only graduated from the police academy a few months ago. Sheriff Haley told me that I was the top choice at one point, but that changed when I gave the thumb drive to Supervisor Pennington.”
Sheriff Haley declined to comment on this interchange.
White contends his being passed over for the promotion was grounds for legal action.
“With nearly three decades in law enforcement,” he wrote, “I was clearly the most qualified for the Chief Deputy position… My experience speaks for itself,”
White cited his service as a veteran in the military police along with a list of honors and experiences he has garnered over the years.
“I was prepared to file suit against the County alleging that the failure to promote me to Chief Deputy was in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the former sheriff,” White wrote. “The $40,000 payment to me from Ringgold County avoids a lawsuit and compensates for lost wages and emotional distress.”
The settlement language absolves the county of any admission of wrongdoing.
According to the settlement document, “This agreement shall not be construed as an admission by the County or its elected and appointed officials of any wrongdoing or any violation of any federal, state, or local statute or ordinance or an enforceable right of Employee. The County specifically disclaims any wrongdoing whatsoever against Employee on the part of it current or former employees, officials, or agents.”
Furthermore, as part of the settlement, White releases the county of any claim arising under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Stating the matter has been resolved, county officials declined to provide further comment.