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Fired DOC employee claims retaliatory actions and discrimination by administrators

Selim Blk

A former state corrections official says she was fired for opposing unethical practices by her administrators at the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Photo provided by Meredith Holley, attorney with Eris Conflict Resolution.
Nathaline Frener, formerly of the Oregon DOC and Lane County Youth Services Department

Nathaline Frener joined DOC as an assistant director in 2019 after heading Lane County’s youth services department. But on July 29, 2022, DOC director Colette Peters fired Frener through a termination letter, saying she was taking the division’s leadership “in a new direction.”

It was also Peters’ last day at DOC; she’s now the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Frener’s attorney, Meredith Holley, said her client’s firing was in retaliation for not taking certain actions.

In several documents shared with KLCC, Holley said Frener reported to Peters in September 2021 that now-acting-Director Heidi Steward was trying to keep a former employee, Gina Raney-Eatherly, from coming back to work after a layoff. Raney-Eatherly is the plaintiff in a whistleblower case against DOC. Peters reportedly took no action regarding Steward’s retaliation.

Then in November that same year, Director Peters informed Frener that she suspected a DOC staffer had “leaked” a commutation letter from Gov. Kate Brown’s office to The Oregonian.

According to Frener, Peters was also planning to investigate the emails of union members within the DOC. Frener countered that she believed this was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, was an abuse of power, and unlawful. Furthermore, Frener said the letter itself was public record.

By Frener’s account, then-deputy-director Heidi Steward reported on Nov. 9, 2021 that she had searched employee emails and it didn't reveal anything about who leaked the commutation letter to The Oregonian. After director Peters returned from a vacation later that month, Frener was restricted from her workplace for eight months, saying Frener was being investigated for “harassment.”

“There were allegations that she asked too many questions, and not enough questions,” said Holley. “That she was too humanizing of what they call now ‘Adults In Custody’ (inmates.)”

Bureau of Prisons
Attorney General Merrick Garland (left) swears in Colette Peters as the twelth director of the federal Bureau of Prisons on Aug. 2, 2022.

But Holley said her client believes that as the only member of the executive team at DOC who openly identified as LGBTQIA, she was treated differently.

“And she believes that’s based on her status, just men – straight men - she’s never seen them restricted for this type of allegation that’s really just like, dissatisfaction with management style.”

No damages have been specified yet in the tort claim against DOC. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the agency wrote: “While the Oregon Department of Corrections is not in a position to comment because of threatened litigation, it strives for respectful institutions and worksites. All allegations, including Ms. Frener’s countercomplaints have been investigated through an external investigator.”

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.