FORT WORTH -- Tarrant County will pay a $375,000 no-fault settlement to an assistant district attorney and her lawyer for employment-related claims against District Attorney Joe Shannon, his office and the county.
County commissioners on Tuesday approved the payment of $300,000 to Assistant District Attorney Sabrina J. Sabin and $75,000 to her attorney, Susan Hutchison of Grapevine.
Sabin, 44, alleged that she encountered workplace harassment and retaliation as a result of having complained about her work environment, according to the settlement agreement. She alleged that after she was counseled about her job performance and work attendance she was reassigned to a different position and began to hear gossip suggesting she was behaving abnormally, suffering from health issues or some other type of impairment.
The county investigated Sabin's allegations, granted her requests for consecutive and intermittent family and medical leave and tried to accommodate her with alterations in her work schedule and job assignments, the settlement said.
County Administrator G.K. Maenius said it was in the best interest of the county to enter a no-fault settlement because the cost of the disputed claims would be less than the potential cost of litigation.
"This is a no-fault settlement; neither the county, the district attorney or his office is admitting any fault at all. We believe we would probably be successful in litigation; however, the cost of that litigation would be much more than the settlement cost," he said.
Sabin could not be reached for comment Tuesday and Hutchison was unavailable because she was working out of state, her office said.
County Commissioner Roy Brooks said the Commissioners Court was being fiscally responsible.
"It is a lot of money and there isn't anybody on the Commissioners Court who likes spending money to settle lawsuits, to settle claims," Brooks said. "But sometimes it's cheaper to do that than to try a case. We were advised by our outside attorneys that we could settle it for far cheaper than we could try it. Being fiscally responsible, we've got to try and save the taxpayers' money."
"We might have won it in the long run but we still would have rung up the legal bills," he said.
Maenius noted that all parties to the agreement have denied fault and liability, a statement reiterated by the Tarrant County district attorney's office.
"As usual, there are several sides to every story and this is no different," Melody McDonald, the office's spokeswoman, said in a statement. "These matters are vigorously denied and disputed. This settlement agreement resolves multiple employment issues raised by the parties. Due to a confidentiality agreement, we are prohibited from say anything further. We intend to abide by the agreement."
Sabin makes $75,415, according to the Texas Tribune's online database of government employee salaries.
She graduated from Texas Wesleyan University in 2004 and started work at the district attorney's office Sept. 1, 2005.
Shannon has served as an adjunct professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law since 1998, according to the law school's website. He joined the district attorney's office in 1972 and then returned to private practice in 1978. He rejoined the DA's office as chief of the economic crime unit in 1999.
He was appointed district attorney in May 2009 after the death of District Attorney Tim Curry. Shannon was elected in 2010.
Beginning Oct. 1 and during that month, Sabin will work from home and will be paid her regular salary, according to the settlement. It said she will be working on research projects or helping with case evaluations and presentations.
In November and December, Sabin will take an unpaid leave of absence but will be allowed to use all vacation and sick leave benefits she has earned. She will resign by Dec. 31, to "pursue other interests," the settlement said.
As part of the agreement, the county will provide a job reference letter that includes a statement that Sabin was an employee in "good standing" when she resigned.