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Cuyahoga County to pay $550,000 to settle lawsuit brought by fired budget director

Cuyahoga County Council approved the settlement with former budget director Maggie Keenan on Tuesday night. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
Cuyahoga County headquarters in Downtown Cleveland

Updated 9:32 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 8

Cuyahoga County will pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a fired budget director who alleged county officials retaliated against her for complaining about a shortage of nurses at the jail and other issues.

Cuyahoga County Council approved the settlement with Maggie Keenan on Tuesday night. The suit named County Executive Armond Budish, chief of staff Bill Mason and former human resources chief Douglas Dykes as defendants.

“I’m pleased with Council’s approval of our agreement and this settlement,” Keenan wrote to Ideastream Public Media in an email. “I am proud of the work that I did while with the County and feel that this outcome honors my effort and my experience. I’m glad to now put this behind me and move on.”

A spokeswoman for Budish’s office declined to comment on the settlement.

Budish fired Keenan in December 2019, shortly after council approved the county’s two-year budget. At the time, Mason said only that the administration had “decided to go in a different direction.”

Keenan filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in June 2020. According to the complaint, Keenan warned Budish and other officials about a shortage of nurses at the county jail in 2018, before a string of inmate deaths at the facility.

Keenan’s attorney also wrote that she reported and complained about “conduct that she believed constituted sex discrimination and a hostile work environment.” That conduct included being paid less than similarly situated male employees, according to the complaint.

The then-budget director also gave a statement to investigators who were looking into a signing bonus Dykes had approved, Keenan’s lawyers wrote. Dykes later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges connected to the investigation.

“Defendants knew Ms. Keenan had engaged in protected speech, but took adverse actions against her, including making caustic remarks and expressing hatred in the workplace, creating and circulating a notice of putative employment violations, and discharging her,” her attorneys wrote in the complaint.

Attorneys with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, who represent county government in civil cases, denied Keenan’s allegations in a November 2020 court filing.

This August, Keenan testified against indicted former jail director Ken Mills. She told the jury that Mills thought the jail didn’t need the nurses that the medical director had requested. Prosecutors also presented emails between Keenan and Mills to support their charges against the former jail director.

A jury in September convicted Mills of four misdemeanor charges, acquitting him of a felony tampering with records charge.

In October, Keenan and county officials received permission from Judge Solomon Oliver to negotiate a settlement with a private mediator.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.