County, ex-employee continue legal battle

A battle between Mesa County and a former Clerk and Recorder’s Office employee over unemployment benefits is headed to the Colorado Court of Appeals after the employee won two previous judgments against the county.

County officials allege in court documents that Jennifer Manzanares, who worked as an administrative assistant in the Elections Division for a little more than three years before resigning last summer, failed to perform her job duties and was insubordinate.

But Manzanares, 40, claims Elections Director Catherine Lenhart harassed and discriminated against her and that complaints to Lenhart’s supervisors, then-Chief Deputy Clerk Sheila Reiner and then-Clerk and Recorder Janice Rich, fell on deaf ears.

“I know it’s a personal attack against me,” Manzanares claimed of the county’s resistance to pay her unemployment benefits, which total $764 every two weeks.

Manzanares said her problems began in conjunction with Lenhart being named elections director in 2009. She said she was denied medical leave in the spring of 2010, even though others were allowed to take time off, and that she complained about discriminatory treatment and requested a transfer. She said her complaint was never addressed.

The county, though, insists in court documents that the fault lies with Manzanares. Officials noted that Manzanares was given a plan to improve her job performance in November 2009 and that she was given written warnings the following month and in February 2010 as a result of her “behavior and poor attitude.”

Ultimately, last July, the county gave Manzanares a proposed letter of dismissal, alleging she had also withheld information regarding the primary election.

“The time and effort your supervisor has to spend ensuring you are performing your job duties, not withholding critical information and maintaining communication creates an inefficiency and risk that cannot be accommodated,” Reiner wrote in the letter to Manzanares.

Rather than be fired, Manzanares quit.

A Colorado Department of Labor and Employment hearing officer in October determined Manzanares wasn’t at fault for her job separation and awarded her full unemployment benefits.

“The hearing officer concludes that the claimant separated because she did not have the communication or leadership skills that the employer wanted for this position,” the officer wrote in his decision.

The county appealed the decision to the state’s Industrial Claim Appeals Office, but the office upheld the hearing officer’s decision.

The office agreed with the hearing officer’s decision that Manzanares “attempted to the best of her abilities to perform her job satisfactorily, but that she was impeded by factors outside her control, such as the inability to communicate effectively with co-workers and staff members. These findings support a conclusion that the claimant did not act volitionally and is not at fault for the separation from employment.”

County spokeswoman Jessica Peterson said Friday county officials couldn’t comment on the case because it’s still pending and involves a personnel matter.

Manzanares, in the meantime, has filed a charge of discrimination with the state Civil Rights Division against the county.


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