West Valley Animal Services employee says dismissal was punishment for complaint

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 25 2012 8:25 p.m. MDT

The West Valley City animal shelter came under public scrutiny in October 2011 after Andrea, a black, long-haired cat, survived two cycles in the carbon monoxide gas chamber.

Community Animal Welfare Society

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WEST VALLEY CITY — A former employee of the animal shelter where Andrea the cat survived two trips to the gas chamber is suing West Valley City and a shelter director over her termination.

Karen Bird, who worked for West Valley City Animal Services for 10 years, filed a claim in U.S. District Court on Monday alleging her firing was retaliation for making complaints about gender discrimination in the workplace and accusations that she leaked Andrea's story to the media.

Andrea, a long-haired black and white cat, survived two euthanasia attempts by West Valley City Animal Services and was found alive in a shelter cooler. Following reports on the story, Andrea was adopted.

In the lawsuit, Bird alleges the city and the shelter's operations director, Kelly Davis, failed to provided a workplace free of retaliation and harassment, causing her emotional distress and resulting in lost wages after her dismissal Nov. 29, 2011.

Bird appealed the termination in January, but the city's decision was upheld.

West Valley city manager Wayne Pyle released a statement Tuesday saying the grounds for Bird's termination predate Andrea the cat's appearance in the media. 

"There were multiple reasons for this termination spanning that same period," Pyle said. "They included a history of insubordination, failure to be courteous or cooperative to fellow employees and her supervisor, and neglect or refusal to perform a duty."

According to court documents, Bird indicated her working relationship with Davis began deteriorating in 2009, culminating in late 2011 when Bird reported a theft by Davis' secretary and Andrea's story broke.

Bird filed a complaint against Davis Nov. 3, 2011, which was countered one week later by an investigation into her performance, according to the lawsuit. Bird said hers is one of several complaints by female employees that were mishandled by the city.

Bird alleges in the lawsuit that part of the city's complaint against her came from holding the animals "longer than required at the shelter" and making other employees feel uncomfortable about euthanizing them.

"It is also not clear what the city found objectionable about Ms. Bird's keeping animals alive longer than required," the lawsuit states.

As the court documents point out, Andrea the cat got state and national media attention and sparked a storm of concern in the community about the shelter's gas chamber and euthanasia policies.

Since then, the shelter has been working toward becoming a "no-kill" operation. The Best Friends Animal Society reported this month that the shelter's adoption rates have surged by 73.5 percent compared with a year ago.

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com Twitter: @McKenzieRomero

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