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NDOT employee accuses boss of leaking medical info

BOULDER, Colo.

A former employee of the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation has filed a tort claims notice accusing her supervisor of sexual harassment and sharing her confidential medical documents with other employees.

She says he retaliated by firing her on trumped-up allegations.

In letters to the Navajo Nation Department of Personnel Management and others, Kimberly Mangum, who was principal archaeologist with the division’s Department of Project Management, wrote that Department Manager Taft Blackhorse and Administrative Services Officer Tanya Jim traveled to her doctor’s office in Flagstaff to retrieve an original document to justify a medical leave request Mangum had made in November of 2017.

According to Mangum, who says she had no idea the pair was going to go visit her doctor, the doctor’s office refused to give them the document, citing patient privacy concerns, but agreed to mail it to Mangum.

After receiving the information, Mangum alleges, Blackhorse “wrote word-for-word the doctor’s advice from the submitted printout, including diagnosis, treatment, evaluation or similar medical data,” and “allowed it to be handled by several people in different departments.”

Mangum said the action violates the Navajo Privacy Act of 1999. She filed the tort claim in Window Rock District Court on Dec. 6, 2018, after she says she took her complaint all the way up the chain of command to then-President Russell Begaye and got no relief.

“(Division Director) Garret Silversmith never even talked to me,” Mangum said. “There was no communication at all.”

Mangum said she was allowed a meeting with Jim and Blackhorse, but nothing was resolved.

“My complaint’s against Taft, and Taft shows up?” she said. “It’s just backwards. Garret should have been there.”

By the time she filed the privacy complaint, Mangum said, she and Blackhorse were already on shaky terms because of a sexual harassment complaint she had made against him that September.

Mangum says that at a Sept. 5, 2017, staff meeting, after she had expressed a desire to go to a conference, Blackhorse suggested she stay at the home of a male archaeologist who lived in the city where the conference was going to take place.

The other archaeologist was also offended by the remark and he complained to Silversmith, according to documents Mangum supplied.

She says Blackhorse apologized to the male archaeologist — twice — but not to her.

He also reprimanded the male complainant in an email for not confronting him personally before “overstepping the chain of command.”

Mangum added that Blackhorse had also told an off-color joke at the office and made “gestures of a sexual nature,” which was never dealt with by the division.

Neither Blackhorse nor Jim returned a phone call for this report, but in a transcript of one of the meetings she had with them, they said they had tried to retrieve the medical document in good faith to expedite Mangum’s leave request.

According to both Mangum and Jim, the DPM had refused to accept a copy of the document, insisting on the original.

Mangum said they should have had her retrieve the document, which she actually tried to do a few days after Jim and Blackhorse had stopped by the doctor’s office. That was when she learned of the incident, she said.

“After insisting that all their employees follow the travel policy, they drive off the reservation to Flagstaff, probably in a tribal vehicle and I’m sure it was on company time,” Mangum said. “Two salaries, food, gas … it was a waste of taxpayers’ money that led to nothing. And it all could have been avoided if they followed policies and procedures.”

Magnum said after the incident Blackhorse “punished me for my serious health condition” by reassigning her projects to others, taking away her NDOT vehicle and denying her travel request for a conference she wanted to attend.

In March of 2018, she was accused of turning in two reports two weeks late and suspended for 15 days.

Mangum felt she was singled out because of her history with Blackhorse.

“Other people in NDOT have super-late reports, like four or five months,” she said.

As she cleaned out her desk and left the building, Mangum said, “I’ve got a lot of guns, Taft,” meaning, she said, a lot of information.

“I immediately corrected myself and said, ‘No, not guns, a lot of information about you, Taft,’” Mangum recalled.

But it was too late. She was terminated in mid-April for making a threatening remark.

Mangum said she wants her job back and she wants Blackhorse to be disciplined for violating the department’s procedures. She acknowledged the department recently offered her an agreement in response to the tort claim, but when she looked it over, it didn’t have some of the things she had asked for, so she is rejecting it.

She said all she is asking is that the Navajo Nation follow the policies and procedures that are already in place.

“It’s only for the use of the supervisors,” she said of the policies. “When they want to get you, they’ll quote chapter and verse, but it doesn’t apply to them.”



About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.