Utah attorney general fights 2 hostile workplace lawsuits

Published on February 08, 2018 at 10:34AM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A pair of lawsuits by former state prosecutors alleging they were retaliated against and forced out of their jobs at the Utah Attorney General’s Office for reporting wrongdoing and harassment raises new questions about an office that is only four years removed from a major scandal.

Paul G. Amann, a former assistant attorney general, alleges he was wrongly fired in late 2016 for reporting office employees who misused funds, retaliated against whistleblowers and hired and promoted a woman with a criminal record who was romantically involved with her boss.

Amann said that after he reported his claims to his supervisors, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and legislative auditors investigating the office, he was moved to a different division, received a pay cut, was ultimately suspended and finally fired after 18 years in his job.

Amann’s complaint also alleges he was punished for serving as a witness in a harassment lawsuit, in which another former prosecutor alleged office supervisors failed to investigate his allegations of sexual harassment and punished him and other employees who spoke out about unethical conduct.

The “violations of law and policy, gross mismanagement, abuses of authority, and unethical conduct are fully supported by the Utah Attorney General’s Office,” said the lawsuit by former prosecutor Robert Jason Hanks.

Reyes’ spokesman Daniel Burton said that due to the ongoing litigation and to protect the privacy of those involved, the office could not comment on the cases in detail.

“The office is confident, however, that our actions were appropriate, and we look forward to proving that through the normal course of litigation,” Burton said.

The Attorney General’s Office denies that Amann was terminated in retaliation for being a whistleblower “or for any other improper reason,” and disagrees with Hanks’ allegations of corruption and illegal conduct.

Reyes’ office has not responded to Amann’s allegations in his lawsuit but are asking a judge to dismiss the case on Thursday, arguing Amann missed a deadline to file a required $300 fee associated with the lawsuit and should be blocked from trying to re-file it.

The allegations of an office lacking accountability, few protections for whistleblowers and misconduct by top officials comes after Reyes, a Republican, took the office in 2013 with a pledge to restore public trust and accountability. His two predecessors were accused of taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations in exchange for favorable treatment, though they denied wrongdoing.

Both lawsuits claim the attorneys tried to bring their concerns to Reyes, but Reyes did not investigate or take action and ignored their efforts to meet with him and express their concerns.

Instead, both men say managers in the office retaliated against them by reprimanding them, passing them over for promotions and aggressively investigating them.