Supreme Court staffer charges discrimination and wrongful firing
A former staff attorney has accused the Nevada Supreme Court of sex discrimination, illegal personnel practices and of firing him for making those charges.
Kurt Chadwell was fired June 27 for what attorneys for the Administrative Office of the Courts described as “performance problems that remained uncorrected despite coaching over many months.”
He accused several court administrators of firing him because he complained about the existence of secret employee records in the court and other legal violations by his supervisors and other court administrators.
He also charged that he was being treated more harshly for minor violations, such as being a few minutes late for work, than female lawyers among his colleagues. And he charged his performance goals “were in apparent marked contrast to those applied” to other lawyers.
The Administrative Office of the Courts is the administrative arm and staff for the high court and operates under control of the justices.
Chadwell filed a complaint with the state Personnel Department, claiming his termination violated Nevada’s whistle blower statute, which prohibits retaliation against an employee for reporting violations and problems within a state agency. He declined to comment on the case.
The case has been forwarded to a hearing officer, but Personnel Director Jeannie Green said they must first resolve the court’s claim it is exempt from state statute.
Susan Heaney, the Reno lawyer representing the court, has asked Chadwell’s complaint be dismissed. Among other arguments, she cites the separation of powers between judicial and executive branches of government.
She said the complaint raises constitutional issues and that the court doesn’t want to establish a precedent by allowing the issue to go forward in the Personnel Department.
“Our position is that the law, on its face, doesn’t apply to the court,” she said. “The Department of Personnel cannot decide, as a matter of law, matters relating to the Supreme Court.”
She also argued that, in any case, the specific provisions Chadwell claims were violated do not apply to unclassified employees such as staff attorneys.
Chadwell’s complaint, however, charges the court administrators specifically violated the whistle blower statute, NRS281, which is designed to protect state employees who report wrongdoing within their department. There is no language in NRS281 exempting the judiciary.
He has also filed a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, accusing court administrators of sex discrimination.
Heaney said a recent Supreme Court ruling in Nevada says the Equal Rights Commission process provides a way of handling Chadwell’s allegations and the Personnel Department actions should be dismissed since Chadwell already has filed with the Equal Rights Commission.
No hearing date has been set.