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The Wrong Question (Update): 'I'm Going to Court'

Federal suit looms against Idaho labor chief


Idaho Department of Labor Director Ken Edmunds is expected to find something unpleasant in his inbox in the first days of the new year: notice of a federal lawsuit.

Boise Weekly first reported in late November 2014 that Edmunds was the target of a discrimination claim filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (BW, Feature, "The Wrong Question," Nov. 26, 2014).

The suit comes from Don Dew, who was a candidate to become the new administrator of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. Following a series of phone and video interviews, the IHRC flew Dew to Boise to talk further, including conversations regarding salary and a possible start date. When Dew went face-to-face with Edmunds, whose Labor Department oversees IHRC, things got uncomfortable. When Dew told Edmunds that several years ago an infection triggered seizures that required medication—but that he hadn't experienced any such seizures in more than three years—Dew said Edmunds looked at him as if "he was smelling a dirty diaper."

"Can you even work a 40-hour week?" Dew recalled Edmunds saying, expressing doubt over Dew's ability to perform the tasks.

"I was stunned," Dew told BW, prompting him to file an EEOC claim alleging discrimination based on disability. Officials at the Idaho Department of Labor and EEOC's Washington, D.C., headquarters confirmed the filing, which triggered an investigation that is being handled by EEOC's field office in Los Angeles.

"I talked to the investigator just last week," Dew said from his Sioux City, Iowa, home. "We talked about a number of the details."

Dew told BW that he was giving Idaho officials "until the first of the year" to resolve the matter, but now he's preparing to turn up the urgency of his claim.

"If they're not going to talk to me, I'm going to federal court," he said. "No one from the Idaho Department of Labor or the Idaho Human Rights Commission has wanted to talk, or discuss anything. The governor will be on trial as much as the agencies."

Dew had received a hand-signed letter from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, dated Sept. 18, in regard to the matter.

"I do not see a case of misconduct," Otter wrote to Dew. "I believe Director Edmunds asked you what he would ask of any candidate interviewing for the position."

In his letter, Otter wrote that he had personally spoken to those in attendance at Dew's fateful interview. But that's not exactly true.

"He never talked to me," said Dew.

Meanwhile, Dew has decided to add sex discrimination to his complaint in addition to discrimination based on disability. Dew said that in notes regarding his references, then-IHRC Administrator Pam Parks wrote that one of Dew's references told her that, "Don is moving because he is a disabled/gay man he can barely get a date."

"She would never say anything like that; my reference is the executive director of the Human Rights Commission in Sioux City, Iowa, and she'll sign an affidavit that she never made those remarks," Dew told BW.

Meanwhile, Dew's work as a human rights advocate was recently honored; he was given the 2014 War Eagle Human Rights Award in early December by Sioux City in observance of Universal Human Rights Day.

"I just want to be reasonable and go on with my life," said Dew. "But I can't; not until we have some sort of resolution."

It appears that any chance for resolution may end up in court, in addition to the federal probe against the Idaho Department of Labor's man in charge.