Benton prevails in lawsuit against county over firing

May 21, 2021 GMT

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Don Benton, the former director of the now-dissolved county Department of Environmental Services, was awarded nearly $68,000 Thursday in his lawsuit against Clark County.

Two of his former employees, Christopher Clifford, a program coordinator, and Susan Rice, an administrative assistant, each received six-figure awards from a jury in Clark County Superior Court, The Columbian reported.

For Benton, 11 out of 12 jurors found the county terminated him in violation of public policy and awarded him almost $23,000 in economic damages and $45,000 in noneconomic damages.

For Rice, 11 out of 12 jurors found the county breached contract and violated specific promises of treatment. She was awarded over $391,000 in economic damages. She had withdrawn a request for noneconomic damages during the trial.

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Eleven out of 12 jurors found the county terminated Clifford in violation of public policy and breached contract. He was awarded nearly $220,000 in economic damages and $15,000 in noneconomic damages.

The trio was laid off about two weeks after Benton submitted a whistleblower complaint about then-county manager Mark McCauley. The complaint accused McCauley of illegal actions and political retaliation.

Clifford helped Benton draft the complaint, and Rice looked it over, according to trial testimony.

Amid a staff reorganization in 2016, the three plaintiffs were laid off in what McCauley at the time described as a cost-saving measure.

They filed their lawsuit in 2016 in Clark County Superior Court alleging hostility and retaliation during their employment.

Benton later took a job with former President Donald Trump’s administration. The county council terminated McCauley’s contract in 2017.

The trial began May 3.