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Stutsman County State’s Attorney accused of creating a hostile work environment

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Stutsman County State's Attorney Fritz Fremgen will work with a leadership coach from the Village Business Institute in Fargo to correct his management style after an external investigation determined he had created a hostile w...

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Stutsman County State’s Attorney Fritz Fremgen will work with a leadership coach from the Village Business Institute in Fargo to correct his management style after an external investigation determined he had created a hostile work environment for his staff.

The Stutsman County Commission Tuesday unanimously authorized a contract with the Institute to provide consulting service work with Fremgen and his staff. This agreement includes having the Institute  provide employee-assistance program services to all county employees.

The commission also authorized moving Fremgen’s office to the first floor of the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center and that all communication between Fremgen and the Stutsman County State’s Attorney Office be channeled through Stutsman County Chief Assistant State’s Attorney Troy LeFevre.

County Auditor Casey Bradley said the issue of Fremgen allegedly creating a hostile work environment, which is a violation of the Stutsman County personnel policy, came to light in September. He said he and Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser had requested a meeting with Joni Fredrickson, a legal secretary in the Stutsman County State’s Attorney Office, to discuss feedback Kaiser and Bradley had received from other county state’s attorney office employees about the work environment under Fremgen.

In his report to the County Commission, Bradley said Fredrickson confirmed the feedback he and Kaiser had received and that there were a number of other issues that were taking place in the county state’s attorney office.

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“Sheriff Kaiser and I both felt that the information provided clearly violated the Stutsman County Harassment Policy,” Bradley wrote.

Because Fremgen is an elected official, the county cannot terminate his employment, Bradley said in his report to the commission. He said the governor’s office could have taken action to remove Fremgen from office if it had been determined his actions with the staff were a crime. But, Bradley said Fremgen’s conduct didn’t rise to the level of criminal action. Several other agencies, including the FBI and state attorney general’s office,  also declined to become involved in the matter.

Kaiser contacted the Cass County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 5 to see if it could conduct an outside investigation and they finally agreed after the other agencies declined. Cass County Detective Steve Gabrielson interviewed current and former employees who worked under Fremgen, including Jay Schmitz, a former assistant state’s attorney who is now a Southeast District Court judge. In his report, Gabrielson said current and former employees accused Fremgen of making inappropriate comments about food items employees were eating and made comments about employees’ weight and physical appearance.

The employees told Gabrielson when Schmitz was an assistant state’s attorney under Fremgen that Schmitz acted as a buffer between Fremgen and the employees. Gabrielson said when he interviewed Schmitz about the investigation, Schmitz said he did act as a buffer and Fremgen didn’t create a good working environment.

In Gabrielson’s report, employees said Fremgen treated his male employees differently from female employees by letting them take time off during busy times but not letting the female employees do the same. Gabrielson said employees accused Fremgen of “micromanaging” and being condescending to employees.

Gabrielson interviewed Fremgen on Oct. 26 in Jamestown. He said he told Fremgen that the information he had acquired didn’t rise to the level of criminal activity. But, Gabrielson said he believed the information showed Fremgen had violated different Stutsman County policies.

In Gabrielson’s report, he said when he mentioned specific instances cited by employees about Fremgen’s conduct, Fremgen’s reply was he wasn’t aware that his actions were perceived by the employees as being hostile or inappropriate.

At the County Commission meeting Tuesday, Fremgen said he enthusiastically wants to work through the remediation and get this situation resolved. He said he would like the commission to delay making any determinations about any possible county personnel-policy violations as he had only received Gabrielson’s report and Bradley’s recommendation for action on Friday.

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“I’ve only had this report for one business day,” Fremgen said.

He said he wanted time -- two to three weeks -- to talk with some of the people mentioned in the report who may not be aware they were mentioned in Gabrielson’s report.

In Bradley’s report to the County Commission, he said while Fremgen’s treatment of his employees did not reach the level of criminal action, Fremgen’s actions “clearly created a hostile work environment which likely violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”

Fremgen said the commission should give him time to respond to the allegations.

Bradley said Fremgen had the opportunity to review the allegations made against him while Gabrielson was conducting an investigation.

“It’s very clear you violated the policy. It’s very clear the employees are very enthusiastic to get this (action) in place,” Bradley said. “To drag this out more is a waste of time.”

Related Topics: JAMESTOWNENVIRONMENT
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