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Ex-EWU manager claims firing was retaliation

The former risk manager at Eastern Washington University has sued the school and several individuals, alleging she was fired as retaliation for speaking at a public hearing on proposed asbestos rules.

Anne Bailey lost her job at Eastern after complaints were raised about her testimony at an Aug. 18 meeting of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority. An EWU professor and a local environmental attorney complained to university administrators that Bailey had purported to speak on behalf of the university and that she had a conflict of interest because her husband had worked as private consultant on asbestos cleanup. Following an investigation, she was fired Jan. 2.

The controversy over Bailey’s testimony was also part of a larger issue over former SCAPCA Director Eric Skelton, who resigned in September after clashing with the authority’s board.

Bailey and her husband, Sam Bailey, claim in their lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court, that her First Amendment rights were violated and that she was speaking as a private citizen at the hearing. Defendants named in the suit include the state, EWU, the school’s director of human resources, Jolynn Rogers, and its vice president for business and finance, Mary Voves.

The suit also says that professor Anthony Flinn and attorney Karen Lindholdt, a vocal supporter of Skelton’s and longtime clean-air advocate, interfered with her contract and inflicted emotional distress when they approached the administration.

William Powell, the Baileys’ attorney, said they didn’t want to comment on the suit. But he said Bailey was speaking as a private citizen and not a representative of EWU at the SCAPCA meeting.

“The board understood she was expressing her own individual opinion,” Powell said. He also said Sam Bailey did not stand to be affected by proposed changes in SCAPCA procedures in his work.

EWU spokesman David Rey said university administrators would have no comment on the suit.

Flinn said Friday that he and Lindholdt approached the administration seeking an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bailey’s testimony. Flinn said he was acting as a university officer, given his role as faculty union president.

“My concern was that she was representing herself there as on Eastern business,” he said. “That was how she introduced herself. … It was in the capacity of her job as risk manager of EWU that she was present at the meeting.”

Lindholdt said she hadn’t seen the complaint Friday and didn’t want to comment specifically. However, she said she thought the suit was an example of retaliation for her work on behalf of environmental causes.

Bailey’s testimony last August related to a survey of businesses that do asbestos cleanup in burned-out buildings. As EWU’s risk manager, she dealt with asbestos issues on campus.

Her husband had worked on a board-ordered asbestos cleanup plan for two home renovators who later accused SCAPCA of falsifying asbestos tests. Those claims were later found to be without merit, board members said.

According to a transcript of the hearing, she introduced herself by saying, “My name is Anne Bailey, and I work for Eastern Washington University. I’m the risk manager.”

She proceeded to question whether the rules governing asbestos removal were being changed without proper public notice. Skelton later sent her a letter, questioning why she had testified on a matter for which the university was not a “target audience” and taking exception to her comments.

Her testimony came in the midst of the conflict between Skelton and the board, which criticized him for being heavy-handed with businesses. But Bailey later told The Spokesman-Review, “It was a public meeting. I wasn’t trying to make a big stink, and I wasn’t attacking SCAPCA.”

Shortly thereafter, Lindholdt and Flinn approached EWU administrators, the lawsuit said. They complained that she purported to represent EWU but had a conflict of interest because of her husband’s work.

The university conducted its probe, produced an eight-page report that “contained numerous factual errors,” and terminated her employment, the suit says.