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Two former Antelope County employees filed a complaint last month in U.S. District Court against the county, alleging wrongdoing by both the assessor and clerk, both of whom were elected in November 2014.
Represented by Woods & Aiken, LLP of Lincoln, Antelope County issued a response to the complaint on Monday, denying allegations against Assessor Kelly Mueller and Clerk Lisa Payne. The response asked for the complaint to be dismissed with prejudice.
According to the the complaint filed in U.S. District Court on June 5, Jennie Martinez and Alberta Willers, both of Neligh and both former employees of the assessor’s office, allege that “approximately 30 minutes after Ms. Mueller was sworn into office as county assessor on January 9, 2015, she terminated the plaintiff’s employment.”
Court documents show Martinez was employed in the office from January 2, 2013, to January 9, 2015. Willers was employed from April 2014 to January 9, 2015.
Documents filed by the plaintiffs state both Martinez and Willers were told by Ms. Mueller that they would have to reapply for their jobs. Both did so and allege “Ms. Mueller hired less qualified individuals who had supported her 2014 campaign to replace the plaintiffs.”
The complaint also alleges “Ms. Mueller retaliated against the plaintiffs by terminating their employment within minutes of being sworn into office and/or failing to hire them for the positions they had sought with Antelope County.”
Court documents state Martinez applied for a position with the Antelope County Clerk’s office as well, but “due to her their protected speech and conduct noted herein, Ms. Martinez’s application for employment was rejected by Lisa Payne, Antelope County Clerk.”
Antelope County admitted to knowing Ms. Martinez did have a yard sign supporting former assessor Heather McWhorter; however, denied being aware Ms. Willers openly supported McWhorter.
The response by the county also denied any wrongdoing by Ms. Payne and said the “plaintiffs suffered no tangible employment action connected with any alleged retaliation.”
“Any and all actions defendants took with respect to the plaintiffs’ employment were for legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons and were taken in good-faith exercise of the reasonable business judgement of defendant,” according to court documents.