County worker files claims of retaliation
Goodhue County was told about the new veterans service officer’s sexual harassment record before commissioners voted to hire him in March, according to a county employee who claims officials tried to punish her for coming forward with the information.
Heidi Krause, a 14-year administrative assistant in the county Veterans Service Office, said she was called March 3 by a client who told her that female employees filed harassment complaints in 2010 against Lyman “Robby” Robinson Jr. while he served as VSO in Washington County.
Krause said she was told by Goodhue County administration to meet with an investigator March 20 over accusations that she defamed Robinson by relaying the tip to father-in-law Ed Krause, a former Red Wing police chief.
Ed Krause runs a background investigation business with former Goodhue County Sheriff Forest Wipperling, who said he was contracted by Goodhue County to look into Robinson during the hiring process.
“All I did was forward a concern,” Heidi Krause said. “Why did they go after me?”
In response to the defamation investigation, Krause said she filed internal complaints in late-March against Human Resource Director Melissa Cushing and Goodhue County Administrator Scott Arneson alleging retaliation and hostile work environment. She further claimed that Robinson acted inappropriately toward her on March 21, his first day in the office.
Ed Krause said he passed the information from his daughter-in-law to Wipperling on either March 6 or 7. The background check into Robinson already was filed with the county March 5, but Wipperling said he immediately called Cushing to tell her about the new details.
Wipperling offered to follow up, but said that Cushing told him the county would handle it.
An offer letter dated Saturday March 8 by Arneson informs Robinson of his starting date and salary. Robinson’s hire was officially approved March 18 by a unanimous County Board vote.
Cushing declined to comment Friday on Robinson’s hiring process, and Washington County would not confirm if anyone at Goodhue County made contact to inquire about Robinson’s record.
Robinson did receive a written reprimand in Washington County for substantiated complaints that he “exhibited a pattern of inappropriate eye contact of looking and staring at breasts of multiple female employees in the Community Services Department,” according to a Nov. 4, 2010, letter addressed to him by Community Services Director Daniel Papin.
Among the duties of VSO is processing veterans benefits claims, including disability compensation for personal assault or military sexual trauma.
Robinson also serves as the county’s legislative liaison and is mayor of Cannon Falls.
Prior to Washington County, Robinson worked from May 2006 to February 2010 for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs as a veterans assistance coordinator and later a supervisor. A data request with the MDVA revealed no complaints filed against him during that time.
County Board met in special session April 22 to review a report from an independent investigator about unspecified complaints against Arneson, Cushing and Robinson. The board voted unanimously to side with the investigator’s conclusions and found the allegations unsubstantiated.
Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher said the details of the complaints will remain confidential because no disciplinary action was taken against the three officials. County commissioners also declined to comment.
Krause said she was “crushed” by the board’s decision on April 22, adding that the stress brought on by the ordeal has taken a toll on her health. She said she has been on medical leave from the county for the past few weeks.
Despite commissioners voting to drop her complaints, Krause said she has continued to pursue other options, including filing a grievance through the county employee union and a charge against Goodhue County with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Krause’s EEOC charge alleges discrimination based on sex as well as retaliation for opposing discrimination.
County Board met May 6 in closed session for nearly 50 minutes to discuss pending civil legal action.