Ex-worker sues former Tenino mayor, alleges age discrimination

Staff writerJuly 10, 2013 

A former wastewater treatment plant operator for Tenino has sued the city and former Mayor Eric Strawn, alleging that he was wrongfully terminated due to age discrimination.

Terry Keithahn filed his lawsuit last week in Thurston County Superior Court. According to the suit, Strawn visited Keithahn’s workplace last year and “engaged in unprofessional conduct against the older workers” at the wastewater treatment plant. The suit also details on occasion when Strawn “openly expressed concern” about the age of two employees — Keithahn, 57, and another, 62.

Strawn “asked why there weren’t younger people working there so they could have a career,” the suit states. The next day, Keithahn and the 62-year-old employee reported the encounter with Strawn to Dave DaFoe, director of the Tenino Department of Public Works.

Also according to the suit:

Strawn later went to the plant and said he would fire any employee who was not qualified to hold their job. He then asked Keithahn and the 62-year-old employee if they had commercial driver’s licenses. They both said a commercial driver’s license was not required as part of their job. They both then showed Strawn their certifications from the state Department of Ecology permitting them to work in a wastewater treatment plant.

In late December, Strawn asked Keithahn if he would work for reduced pay as a public works laborer. Keithahn accepted the offer, but Strawn subsequently fired him. Keithahn said his firing violated the terms of the contract he agreed to when he accepted the job as a laborer.

Strawn chose a 30-year-old worker to replace him.

Keithahn worked for Tenino from 1988 to 1990, in the Public Works Department and as a firefighter. From 2007 until his termination, he worked in Tenino’s wastewater treatment plant.

Keithahn’s lawsuit asks for past and future wages, plus damages for pain and suffering.

Strawn, 37, resigned as mayor in May. During his time in office, he clashed with the City Council on a number of issues and was investigated in Lacey last year for what witnesses described as an alleged lewd act in a city vehicle. At the time, Strawn said he and the woman involved had only kissed. Strawn served as mayor for about 16 months. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Tenino’s new mayor, Bret Brodersen, also could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445

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