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Washington Counselor’s Breach of Confidentiality Rules Merits Dismissal

The State of Washington Personnel Appeal Board (PAB) has held the dismissal of a Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) employee for failing to abide by the agencies policy regarding confidentiality when she inappropriately shared information with an employee outside of her departmental program was proper.

Before the PAB was the appeal of Cyndi Walters, WDOC Statewide Director of the Staff Counseling program, which she played an instrumental role in developing program policies as well as writing the job description for her job. The primary objective of the Staff Counseling program is to allow employees the opportunity to anonymously debrief after a critical or stressful incident with the assurance of confidentiality.

When the son of WDOC Secretary Lehman was arrested on February 6, 2003, Walters considered it a critical event. She then went to WDOC Headquarters to be available to counsel staff members. Lehman declined to speak with Walters, saying it was a personal matter.

While at his office on February 10, 2003, Walters told Office Assistant Lead, Mary Sutliff, that she was at headquarters to assist in the “crisis,” mentioning the names of managers she spoke with about the matter. Walters also said Lehman was in “hiding” to avoid discussing the issue. Walters disputed these facts, but the PAB found she was inconsistent in her versions of the conversation with Sutliff. On the other hand, Sutliff was consistent and had no motive to be untruthful..

The PAB found Walters violated WDOC policy by giving the impression she went to headquarters to counsel staff and then proceeded to discuss the specific situation and specific names of individuals with Sutliff. This damaged Walters credibility, damaged her effectiveness as Statewide Director, and undermined the credibility of the Staff Counseling program. Thus, dismissal was the appropriate sanction. See: Walters v. Department of Corrections, PAB No:-Dism-03-0093 (2004). The PAB ruling is in the brief bank.

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Related legal case

Walters v. Department of Corrections