The attorney representing former Marshall County E-911 dispatcher Maranda Hanson said she fully intends to file a lawsuit in Marshall Circuit Court on behalf of her client who she says was subjected to illegal adverse employment action after being exposed to a colleague whose family member tested positive for COVID-19.
Marilyn “Linsey” Shrewsbury, partner of Nelson, McDonald & Shrewsbury in Louisville, said, “We have not [yet] filed any court action because generally speaking, we like to give employers the opportunity to make amends appropriately prior to lengthy, drawn-out, public litigation. However, in this case, it is becoming exceedingly clear that we will be forced to file suit and we will be filing under a plethora of statutory violations.”
Hanson said one of her former coworkers, who Shrewsbury advised against naming, had a close family member who tested positive for COVID-19. She said the coworker took one day off from work, the day the test result came in, and then returned to work the next day--working a half shift alongside Hanson.
Hanson said she didn’t know at that time and wasn’t informed until later that she had worked in close proximity with someone who could very likely expose not only her and her direct coworkers, but also the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office deputies who frequently come in and out of the dispatch center to file and collect paperwork--deputies who still regularly interact with members of the community as well. All of whom have family members who have also been potentially exposed.
After learning of the potential exposure from a coworker, Hanson sent an email on March 21 to Marshall County E-911 Director Chris Freeman expressing her concern about not being notified she was working alongside someone who had likely been exposed. She said she didn’t receive a response to that email until she returned for her shift on March 23.
Hanson’s shift on March 23 started at 2 p.m. and she recalled it was approximately 5:30 p.m. when Freeman arrived at the dispatching center in Benton and called her into his office. She said he began by telling her he was “offended” by her email and accused her of being “insubordinate.”
“[Freeman] said that I was accusing him of lying but that's not the case. He did not give me any opportunity to defend what I was saying or to explain anything. He said I was suspended for three days without pay and that he had already spoken to Judge [-Executive Kevin] Neal and had already gotten approval from [Neal] for the suspension and that he agreed. And that was it,” she recalled.
Hanson said “in the heat of the moment” she was stunned and humiliated and told Freeman she didn’t want to work in a place where she couldn’t express her concerns, so she gave her two-week notice. She said he asked her if she intended to fulfill the two weeks and she told him she would, then left.
Hanson said in the days that followed after she calmed down, her attorney reached out on her behalf to rescind her two-week notice but Freeman wouldn’t accept it.
“Not only did they refuse to accept a withdrawal of her notice, but they backdated her discharge or termination to the 23, the date she was actually suspended,” Shrewsbury said.
Hanson contends Freeman should have warned the dispatchers and anyone entering the dispatching center, even without naming the dispatcher whose family member tested positive, that the potential for exposure to the virus was heightened in that area. She also contends Freeman should have required that employee stay out of the dispatching center for at least 14 days after learning their family member had tested positive.
“Not that I wouldn’t have continued to go to work, but I would have taken extra, extra precautions when coming home had I known I was possibly exposed. I wouldn’t have come home and snuggled with my kids on the couch. I would have possibly slept in a different room from my husband just to be on the safe side. But we were not told in any matter that we should be concerned about anything,” she said.
Hanson said she and her husband and their children have been in self-quarantine since she learned of potential exposure. She said her children are old enough to understand the risks that come along with COVID-19 and she’s told them to behave as if everything in their kitchen is covered in the virus.
Hanson’s husband is also out of work, she said. He’s self-employed and constructs fences, which he could do without coming into close contact with others, but his supplier is no longer shipping supplies so he has no material with which to work.
Shrewsbury noted Hanson has more than a decade of experience as a dispatcher, five of those years with Marshall County E-911. She said Hanson has never received any other disciplinary action in her career.
Shrewsbury said the lawsuit will, at minimum, cite violation of a number of Kentucky Revised Statutes as well as an executive order issued by Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Tort Law “which addresses the grossly negligent actions taken by Marshall County as it relates to this matter.”
WKMS reached out to Freeman requesting a statement on behalf of his department and he said legal counsel had advised him against making any statements at this time.
WKMS reached out to Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall requesting a statement on behalf of the county and this is what we received:
“Because there has been an express threat of litigation from an attorney claiming to represent Ms. Hanson, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any specific details regarding the allegations that have been made, other than to remind everyone that at this point they are mere allegations and that there is almost always two or more sides to every story.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.