Judge says panel erred in siding with ex-DOC employee in dispute

A Lewis and Clark County 1st District Court judge has overturned a decision by the Human Rights Commission to grant compensation to a former Department of Corrections employee who said she was fired for retaliation, saying the panel exceeded its authority in reversing a hearing officer’s findings.

Judge Michael McMahon on Wednesday ruled on cross-petitions filed by the Department of Corrections and former DOC employee Adrianne Cotton. He granted the DOC’s judicial review petition and denied Cotton’s petition.

In October 2022 the state ordered the DOC to pay Cotton, former government relations director, $413,000 for her discrimination claim that arose from her own 2018 termination.

The DOC argued her elimination was part of a reorganization and budget savings effort. Cotton claimed she was fired after she reported to the department’s human resources office several comments by then DOC-director Reginald Michael she believed to be inappropriate.

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The state’s Human Rights commission in 2022 reversed a 2021 decision by HRC hearing officer Caroline Holien, who said Cotton had failed to prove the department had retaliated against her. A hearing officer who is with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry in 2022

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