Saturday, August 22, 2020

Drowning raccoons in cages mentioned in 3rd lawsuit against South Walton Mosquito Control District. (Northwest Florida Daily News)

 More good coverage of a peculiar institution, the South Walton County Mosquito Control District, from Northwest Florida Daily News:

Drowning raccoons in cages mentioned in 3rd lawsuit against South Walton Mosquito Control District Tom Northwest Florida Daily News April 8, 2020 A third lawsuit has been filed claiming management retaliation against an employee at the South Walton County Mosquito Control District. Denis Rietenbach, a long-time field technician for the district, claims he was fired because he fought against discharging illegal chemicals into ditches flowing into Choctawhatchee Bay and resisted orders to drown trapped raccoons. Mosquito Control District lawyers submitted paperwork Monday denying the charges leveled by Rietenbach, who filed the lawsuit Feb. 23. Rietenbach’s is the third legal action taken against the district since last August. Former district entomologist Peter Brabant filed a lawsuit in Walton County Court Aug. 13 and Emilee Rister, a former equipment operator, filed in October. Rister’s lawsuit was later moved to Federal Court. She clams that she was aggressively sexually harassed by a co-worker and that her efforts to get her superiors to act on the matter were ignored. A motion to dismiss Rister’s case was denied in January. A mediation conference has been scheduled for May 28. Brabant’s lawsuit claims he was retaliated against for standing up to management when a supervisor made Rister wear a sexually demeaning T-shirt and when he went to the District’s governing board to report then-District Director Ben Brewer for being intoxicated on the job. Brabant is scheduled to be deposed in his case in June. Like Rietenbach, Brabant claims he angered Brewer and now-Director Harley Sampson by railing against the ordered drowning of caged raccoons. “Brewer and Sampson forced Rietenbach to drown raccoons in their cages before acquiring a gun,” Rietenbach’s lawsuit states. “Instead of his idea of using a fence to keep the raccoons out.” The Rietenbach lawsuit states that Brewer specifically ordered him to disobey state regulations by applying the chemical glyphosate, or Roundup, into water run-off ditches that drain into Choctawhatchee Bay. When Rietenbach argued, the lawsuit said, Brewer “told (him) to do the treatment anyway” and Sampson was reprimanded the same day for arguing with his managers. “Rietenbach was forced to take a pay decrease or use Brewer and Sampson’s preferred material despite Rietenbach finding a safer alternative,” the suit says. The defense filing posted Monday states Rietenbach failed a drug test shortly before he was terminated. His suit claims the failed test was for alcohol consumed within 72 hours of the time he was tested. It “did not correlate with being under the influence on the job,” the suit said. The lawsuit states Rietenbach qualified for whistleblower status by virtue of reporting “violations of rules, regulations and laws, and/or malfeasance and/or gross misconduct to persons both inside and outside of the normal chain of command and to others having the authority to investigate, police, manage and otherwise remedy the (Mosquito Control District) violations.” The suit does not specify what entities Rietenbach contacted to report the alleged violations. Marie Mattox, Rietenbach’s attorney, did not return a phone call or respond to an emailed request for comment. Sampson did not return a phone call seeking comment. The suit states Rietenbach is entitled to general and compensatory damages for economic losses incurred by the Mosquito Control District’s violations of the law. It also calls for damages for emotional pain and suffering and “a judgment against the defendant enjoining the defendant from any future violations of law.”

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