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Oregon court revives prison worker's wrongful-firing lawsuit

 

PORTLAND — The state Court of Appeals has kept alive a lawsuit filed by a former MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility employee who was fired after telling Oregon State Police he thought he had been poisoned on the job.

The Oregon Youth Authority fired Tim Hall in 2011, at least in part for filing a false report. Hall and his attorney, Kevin Lafky, said the dismissal was in retaliation for Hall's complaints about management and assaults at the youth prison in Woodburn.

“When they had this excuse to terminate him, they jumped on it,” Lafky said Wednesday.

Oregon Youth Authority spokeswoman Ann Snyder said the agency does not comment on issues involving human resources. In court documents, the Youth Authority said Hall also violated its drug-free workplace policy and provided false or misleading information to management during an investigation and pre-dismissal meeting.

Hall was hired in 2000 and supervised young offenders. He brought a sealed bottle of sweetened water to the visiting center during a shift on Dec. 22, 2010, and noticed nothing strange after taking a few sips.

He left the bottle when his job took him to another part of the building. When he returned, he took another drink and felt a hard substance, which he believed to be a dissolving pill. Hall showed the bottle to three other employees who thought there might be something in the liquid.

Hall said he later felt dizzy and went to Salem Hospital, where a urine sample tested positive for barbiturates. He filed the police report shortly after getting the result.

Surveillance video proved that no one tampered with the bottle and Hall later acknowledged that a prescription medication he took for migraine headaches contained barbiturates.

A trial judge dismissed Hall's claim of wrongful termination, agreeing with the Oregon Youth Authority that the report of criminal activity was unreasonable.

The Appeals Court, however, said Wednesday the hindsight of videotape does not defeat the “objective reasonableness” of Hall's decision to go to police, given that other employees noticed a substance and it was not rare for offenders to try to harm staff.

The lawsuit returns to Marion County Circuit Court, where it resumes its path toward trial. Hall seeks reinstatement, back pay and monetary damages.

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Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub

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