Former cook sues Oregon Youth Authority, alleging whistleblower retaliation 

The lawsuit, which seeks $750,000, says the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress after she was fired

By: - November 3, 2021 10:12 am
Inside Oak Creek Correctional Facility in Albany

Oak Creek Correctional Facility can house up to 50. (Oregon Youth Authority)

A former part-time cook at Oak Creek Correctional Facility in Albany has filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Youth Authority and several of its employees, alleging they retaliated against her for being a whistleblower and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

The case was filed Friday, Oct. 29, in Marion County Circuit Court and seeks at least $750,000.

The Oregon Youth Authority declined to comment. It has not filed an answer to the complaint, court records show.

The complaint said the former employee, Kelly Carpenter, was hired by the youth authority in February 2012 to work at Oak Creek, the authority’s only correctional facility for girls. It can house 50 but currently 32 are incarcerated there. 

Starting 2016 and through 2020, Carpenter filed multiple complaints about alleged violations of state and federal laws, rules and regulations, the lawsuit said. They include complaints of unsafe working conditions, sanitation violations, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, gender discrimination and whistleblower retaliation, the complaint said.

She also filed at least six reports about alleged violations of the federal school lunch program between the winter of 2019 through 2020, the lawsuit said. The complaint does not provide any details from the complaints.

In February 2020, after filing two complaints about alleged violations of the lunch program, Carpenter emailed the Oregon Department of Administrative Services. She accused Oak Creek of government waste and harassment and requested an audit. In her email, she accused Mike Riggan, superintendent of Oak Creek, of sexual harassment and promoting a toxic work environment, the complaint said. Riggan is named as a defendant in the suit.

In March, she asked to take family leave but was denied, the suit said. A few days later, she was notified that the authority was investigating her work performance, according to the complaint. It added that she had not received any reprimands or disciplinary actions.

In April, Carpenter emailed Riggan, accusing two other Oak Creek employees, Christopher Weiss and Audrey Adams, of harassing her. The email said the “ongoing harassment and retaliation” were “affecting her mental health and making her ‘depressed and miserable at work,’” the complaint said.

In May, she received a written reprimand that accused her of leaving early, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, changing the menu, rearranging food items in the pantry and conducting herself in an unprofessional manner. The complaint said this was her first reprimand.

She filed three more complaints alleging violations of the federal school lunch program. 

In November, Carpenter received a pre-dismissal letter that said she was being investigated for repeatedly raising concerns about the lunch program. Weiss had spoken to her about her concerns in June, the complaint said. The notice to Carpenter said it was “‘unprofessional and inappropriate’ for her to continue raising concerns about potential violations of federal law,” the suit said.

A pre-disciplinary hearing was held in early December and she was subsequenlty fired, the complaint said. 

It alleges that the youth authority failed to follow the necessary progressive disciplinary steps, including a pay cut, suspension and demotion.

The suit said that the dismissal caused Carpenter to suffer “extreme mental and emotional distress, including damage to her professional reputation, loss of enjoyment of life, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, fear, worry, grief, anger, confusion, embarrassment, humiliation and loss of sleep.”


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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.