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Woodbury County Supervisor Matthew Ung and Gilliland

Woodbury County Supervisor Matthew Ung, right, talks to former county human resources director Ed Gilliland in a December 2014 photo. An administrative law judge earlier this year awarded unemployment benefits to Gilliland, who claimed Ung forced him to resign last fall after accusing him of breaching the confidentiality of a woman offered a job as a county department head.

SIOUX CITY -- A  former Woodbury County department head has filed suit against the county and County Supervisor Matthew Ung, alleging he was discriminated against because of his age.

Former Human Resources Department Director Ed Gilliland filed the lawsuit Saturday. Gilliland, 64, led the department from April 2014 to Jan. 2, 2018. At the time of his departure, Gilliland told The Journal he was retiring.

After he left the position, Gilliland applied for unemployment benefits. Officials for the Iowa Workforce Development, which oversees benefits for the state's employers, denied his claim, and he appealed.

In challenging his application, the county claimed Gilliland voluntarily quit, which, in most cases, disqualifies an employee from collecting benefits.

In his ruling, state administrative law judge Devon Lewis awarded Gilliland the benefits, concluding he "did not quit but was discharged from employment for no disqualifying reason."

Gilliland filed a petition in Woodbury County District Court, which states the "defendants discriminated against Ed and constructively discharged him in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act."

He is seeking damages, including compensation for emotional distress and attorney fees. Gilliland is represented by the Timmer & Judkins law firm of West Des Moines, Iowa.

According to the lawsuit, Ung and county supervisor Jeremy Taylor assumed the board chairman and vice chairman roles in 2016 and "almost immediately...began a crusade to rid the County of its older managers and employees." The petition says "on many occasions, Ung told Ed he wanted 'fresh' ideas and 'young' managers working for Woodbury County."

Taylor was not named individually as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In a statement to the Journal on Tuesday, Ung said, "I found our former human resources director to be a nice man, and it pained me personally to have to deal with a personnel matter. I did not want to hurt his reputation or his record, and offered him the chance to resign in dignity and seek other employment, which he did, and which my fellow supervisors accepted unanimously in open session. But no good deed goes unpunished. I bent over backwards to be very kind and gentle, and in turn am maligned."

Gilliland now lives in Story County, Iowa, and could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Woodbury County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rocky De Witt said the county attorney's office had not studied the lawsuit, so he had no comment, while awaiting legal advice.

Gilliland's petition says the county forced out two other experienced department heads who were in their 50's and older.

In both his state administrative hearing and in the petition, Gilliland claimed he was ousted after Ung accused him of breaching the confidentiality of a Florida woman who was offered a job as the county's community & economic development department director.

Ung then demanded that Gilliland resign, and asked him why he would want "a s--- job like this, anyway," Lewis wrote.

Melissa Thomas, who worked in the human resources department under Gilliland, was named his successor as director in December 2017.

Gilliland is requesting a jury trial.  

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County & Education Reporter

Government and education reporter.

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