November 10, 2010
Tuntland calls Billie Peltz.
When Billie Peltz, former Director of Human Resources at WSI, took the stand, it was clear she was not happy about being there. She said throughout the course of her testimony that she was not the one who sued the State of North Dakota and she was there because she was required to be.
Tuntland asked the most pertinent questions first.
Tuntland: Were you and Jim Long having an affair?
Tuntland: Were you having a romantic relationship?
Tuntland: Did you tease each other?
Tuntland: Did you have a teasing relationship with other people?
Tuntland: Did you consider any of this improper?
Peltz said at one point she was brought into Halvorson's office and he told her to be more professional in the workplace. She tried to be cognizant of that, but still joked with people.
She said she had frequent meetings with Jim Long as it was important to get advice from her direct supervisor. At times, they would have closed door meetings to protect the confidentiality of sensitive employee issues.
She said Halvorson did tell her there was a complaint about the perception of an inappropriate relationship and she did not know who complained, but that Blunt or no one else had ever talked with her regarding her relationship with Jim.
She said she requested whistleblower protection because she was afraid of retaliation for providing information to BCI. She was contacted by BCI and was not happy about that because BCI didn't know who she was until Jodi Bjornson gave them her name. She said BCI gave her two options, she could go in voluntarily to talk with them or they would subpoena her.
She said she filed for whistleblower protection after it was announced that Sandy Blunt was coming back to work. She feared retaliation from Blunt and the executive staff and noted there was an atmosphere of retaliation at the agency. She said when she began at WSI in HR she worked to raise morale and tried to redo their performance reviews so employees could have input regarding their pay increases.
Peltz stated she was not present when the Armstrong journal was found and had told no one she was. She didn't recall whether Jim had given her a copy or whether she had seen it in the press. Peltz stated she was fired on 3-13-08. She remembered that because it was her birthday. She thought Hutchings and Grinsteinner were fired the same day but wasn't sure.
Tuntland asked whether she'd attended a Halloween party at WSI. She had. He asked about issues with Jim with her kids. She said Jim was great with her kids and she didn't do anything with Jim that she would not disclose to her spouse. Regarding going for pedicures with Long, she said Bjornson was supposed to go but she asked her to go in her place.
Defense attorney Randy Bakke then began questioning. Peltz' answers went from aloof to combative.
Bakke asked whether she and Long were close friends. She said friends, but not close friends.
Regarding an issue raised by Long of nepotism, Bakke said she and Long disagreed with the WSI determination that said nepotism in this case was ok. Peltz disagreed and said no, they brought the issue forward to the general counsel Bjornson and accepted management's decision. She said she brought it to board chair Indvik because that was what she was told to do.
Bakke: Wasn't your established chain of command, if you had a concern you would take it to Long?
Bakke: Then Long would take it to the CEO.
Peltz: There wasn't a CEO.
Bakke: Do you agree that by going to Indvik you bypassed the chain of command?
Peltz: No. I was told by the general counsel to go to Indvik.
Bakke: Did Long want that post as the interim CEO?
Bakke: Did he think he was more qualified then Halvorson?
Peltz: I don't recall.
Bakke: Jim was upset that Halvorson got the position?
Bakke: Long told you he thought he was being mistreated by Halvorson?
Peltz: He may have.
Bakke then turned to Peltz' deposition on the matter stating that she knew he complained of mistreatment but didn't have all the details.
Bakke: Did you say that?
Peltz: That's what's documented.
Peltz confirmed that she went with Jim for drinks but not alone, with a group, and did not remember anything amorous.
She also said Halvorson did not discuss anything regarding Long's work performance with her and she got the information second hand from Long. She had no knowledge why Long was put on leave nor why he was fired. She said knew Long and Halvorson had problems.
Bakke: But you were upset that you were not involved in the decision to put Long on administrative leave?
Peltz: No. I was upset that I was being bypassed in decisions.
Bakke then turned to her deposition which said, "I was upset I was not involved in decisions after Halvorson was made CEO."
Peltz: That's just what I told you.
Bakke: You never liked Halvorson?
Bakke: Not because you thought he was involved in violations of law?
Peltz: I would not say that.
Bakke: In your deposition you said Halvorson was involved in too many areas, not that he was involved in illegalities.
Peltz: Yes, but that was not part of my deposition.
Bakke: Was illegal conduct or suspected violation of law reported to you by employees, including Long, before Long filed his whistleblower complaint?
Peltz: No one complained to me prior to the whistleblower complaint.
Bakke: Long told you he thought it was improper for Halvorson to be meeting with legislators?
Bakke: You understand WSI employees meet with the governor and legislators?
Bakke: Did Long frequently complain?
Peltz: Not frequently.
Bakke: You heard Long make inappropriate comments regarding Halvorson?
Bakke: There was an audio tape of that?
Peltz: I heard that at the deposition but I haven't heard it since.
Bakke then places an exhibit on the overhead projector saying Shitty Leader in large letters. Tuntland objects to that. The Judge sustains his objection.
Bakke: That was insubordinate conduct?
Bakke: Calling him a fat fuck was insubordinate conduct?
Bakke: Can you understand why he would be terminated for that?
Bakke: Long was at will?
Bakke: Long was frequently disagreeing with Halvorson?
Peltz: I know he disagrees.
Bakke: If a boss has a person disagreeing with him, he can fire them?
Peltz: It depends on what the CEO's vision is. If he's trying to promote stability and not doing illegal activities, then he can do that.
Bakke: Before Long filed for whistleblower protection he never said Halvorson was going to terminate him because he knew of something illegal in the company?
Bakke: You said on the audio tape, start playing dirty.
Peltz: It sounded like it could be me. I can't be sure it's my voice. It doesn't refresh my memory.
Bakke then turned to her deposition. Do you believe that's you? She answered, sure.
Bakke: Are those the answers you gave at that time?
Peltz: It looks like it. I wouldn't say I was giving advice. I don't remember the conversation.
Bakke: Well your conversation was about Long being reprimanded for the tape recording, recall that?
Bakke noted that Peltz had told Jim to start applying external pressure.
Bakke: Would telling him to go to the media be applying external pressure?
Peltz: I don't recall the conversation.
Bakke: External pressure would be filing a whistleblower complaint?
Peltz: I never encouraged him to file a whistleblower complaint. When I filed a whistleblower complaint it was not to apply external pressure.
Bakke: Are you aware Long was talking to Chad Nodland of northdecoder.com?
Bakke: That would be a way of applying external pressure to WSI and Halvorson?
Peltz: That would be a method.
Bakke: Do you agree on the recording that Long was upset?
Bakke: Was that typical of how Long was regarding Halvorson?
Peltz: No. At times, but not typical.
Bakke: Is the reason why you told him not to go to the board to apply external pressure?
Peltz: No. I said don't go to the board because it won't do any good.
Bakke talked about the definitions of sexual harassment and fraternization and did she not run afoul of those definitions.
Peltz: It was not sexual harassment and it was not fraternization. Everything is a case by case basis when you look at sexual harassment.
Bakke: You'd say you would do your conduct in front of your husband?
Bakke: Slapping or grabbing your buttocks?
Peltz: Jim never did that.
Bakke: If you're touching Mr. Long's leg, would that upset your husband?
Peltz: What are you asking? What are you asking me?
Bakke: Were you told of complaints about Mr. Long and you?
Peltz: Yes. That was addressed by John Halvorson.
Bakke: Halvorson said the perception was that you and Long were acting in an inappropriate manner.
Peltz: Generally, yes.
Bakke: What did Halvorson tell you?
Peltz: It was very brief. Something like, had Jim patted me on the butt. I said no. He said be more careful.
Bakke: Did Long tell you that Nallie said in an executive meeting that you two were having an affair?
Peltz: He was upset that she would make a comment like that.
Bakke then handed her notes of Tim Wahlin's.
Peltz: Yes. He said there were notes that Sandy prepared after he came back, but he didn't put alot of merit in them. He told me that.
The notes said Jim expressed that Billie came to him and wanted a private sexual relationship. Billie said he's a f-ing liar.
Bakke: Do you recall? Are you denying this is accurate?
Bakke: You never suggested a private sexual relationship with Long?
Bakke: So Jim was untruthful?
Peltz: That presumes the notes are accurate. They were dropped on Wahlin after the whistleblower complaint and they were not contemporanous.
Bakke: Is there anything else in this interview that Long said that was untruthful, presuming he said those things?
Peltz: The context isn't true. Jim never touched me inappropriately, never slapped me on the butt, I don't think any of this is accurate because Blunt, a convicted felon, recreated this from his memory. I wouldn't put any weight in this.
Bakke: Are you aware of rumors at WSI?
Peltz: There were always rumors at WSI.
Bakke: Regarding you and Long having an inappropriate relationship?
Peltz: That was a topic of discussion with Halvorson.
Bakke: Can you see how that causes problems with HR?
Bakke: Essentially the HR manager must be squeaky clean regarding sexual conduct?
Peltz: You make it sound like every employee there had this notion.
Bakke: Would you bring him coffee with spill protectors with kissy lips?
Peltz: I don't remember what kind of spill protectors I would give him!
Bakke: Did you tell your husband about the pedicures?
Bakke: Are you critical of Halvorson having to talk with you?
Peltz: No. If Halvorson got a complaint, he had to investigate.
Bakke: After you learned Long supposedly said to Blunt that you wanted a sexual relationship, Long denied that and said it was a bunch of bull.
Bakke: You said it wouldn't surprise you if he had.
Peltz: No. Where's that coming from?
Bakke: Perhaps a better way to put it is that you don't know who to believe anymore.Peltz: Absolutely.