01STOCK_ROCKCOUNTY_SEAL

MADISON

Rock County is rejecting claims made in a lawsuit by a woman who once ran the county’s Birth to 3 program.

As previously reported, Theresa Wixom claimed in the suit that three officials of the Rock County Human Services Department made false, defamatory statements about Wixom at a meeting of the Human Services Board last year and conspired to deprive her of her longtime employment.

The lawsuit was filed after the county switched its contractor for Birth to 3 from CESA 2 to United Cerebral Palsy of Dane County. The program provides services to young children with developmental disabilities.

In its response, the county says the statements by human services Director Kate Luster, Deputy Director Tera O’Connor and Division Manager Greg Winkler were true and did not damage Wixom’s reputation.

Luster is accused of saying the CESA 2 program was often over budget, O’Connor of saying Wixom caused families undue stress and was difficult to work with, and Winkler saying that Wixom was difficult to work with.

The response says Wixom did not correctly describe the comments, but it does not detail exactly what words the officials used.

The lawsuit was filed in Rock County Court, but it has been moved to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison, court documents indicate.

The case became federal because Wixom alleged a conspiracy to deprive her of her employment, which would violate her civil rights under federal law, according to the county’s response.

The county also states that the officials’ comments are privileged under laws that make them immune from lawsuits when they are discussing government business.

Wixom alleges the statements were not privileged because they were malicious, intentional or made with reckless disregard for the truth.

The county suggests Wixom’s loss of income and her alleged pain, inconvenience and humiliation were caused by “third parties” or by Wixom’s “intentional conduct and/or negligent or wrongful actions in connection with her employment.”

It appears a federal judge will decide both the federal civil rights claim and the state defamation claim.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 12 in federal court in Madison.

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