TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino has decided to dismiss Karen Baer, director of the Office of Human Rights, effective immediately.
Molino’s determination was sent to Baer on Monday. In a letter to Baer, which The Ithaca Voice acquired through a freedom of information request, Molino said he chose to terminate Baer because of her failure to participate in an official investigation, lack of accountability and failure to follow directives.
The county commissioned two investigations to look into claims Baer made in 2015 and 2016 of racial- and gender-based discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment in Tompkins County. Baer has overseen the small human rights office since 2013.
In October 2017, Baer was suspended from her position and charged with not fulfilling her duties as director and creating a dysfunctional environment after refusing to participate in an investigation into claims she made. For more information on the events leading up to the charges, read this. A summary from the hearing is here.
Baer denied the charges against her, and said in statements and at the hearing that she did not participate in the county-commissioned investigation because her terms were not met by the investigator, terms she had requested because she had concerns with how a previous investigation was handled.
A public Section 75 New York Civil Service Law hearing took place in December to examine the charges against her. In March, Hearing Officer Murry Solomon finalized his report, which found Baer guilty of two of three charges.
Related: Hearing officer finds Tompkins OHR director guilty of 2 charges but not creating ‘dysfunctional environment’
Though Solomon concluded that there should be some recourse for Baer, such as a one-month suspension from work without pay, the county had the final say.
In his letter to Baer, Molino cited misconduct and failure to participate in the investigation as some of the reasons why she was terminated.
“Given your significant misconduct, your failure to return phone calls regarding an investigation into your claims of exclusion and retaliation is both belligerent and unacceptable,” Molino wrote. “And your inability to take any responsibility for any wrongdoing with respect to the second investigation is unbecoming as a professional. Simply put, this is not behavior to be displayed by a Department Head filling a leadership role in Tompkins County government, nor the Director of Human Rights, who is responsible for fostering mutual respect and enlisting cooperation amongst people within the community.”
Molino recently became county administrator for Tompkins County, after the hearing had concluded. He said he made the determination based on the results of the hearing, previous investigations and background information.
In a statement Monday, through attorneys Zoe Salzman and Andrew Celli, Karen Baer said, “I have exhausted all the County’s internal processes provided me after expressing concerns about discrimination and retaliation in my workplace. Of course, I regret that my employer did not deal with those concerns in any meaningful way or provide me with a process where justice and fairness had an opportunity to prevail. So, I now look forward to asserting my rights in a more fair judicial venue where my rights are protected, the process is transparent, and where the justice meted out is blind.”
While Baer was suspended, a special adviser was appointed to the Office of Human Rights. Kenneth Clarke, Sr. was appointed to the position to provide executive leadership and oversight in Baer’s absence. His contract lasts until the vacancy is filled, or until the end of 2018.
Read the full letter below:
Featured image: Karen Baer, director of the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)