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Sundwall's Comments Cost State in Settlements Paid to Job Seekers



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By DEBBIE HUMMEL
Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A candidate for a position with the Utah Department of Health says when the agency's director asked during an interview if he would voluntarily disclose his age, the man thought for sure he would be getting the job.

"After he asked me that question, my reaction was when I went home to my wife, 'Well, this job's in the bag. He isn't so crazy to ask me that question and not offer me the job,"' said David Rothschild.

Rothschild, now 67, didn't get the job as Director of Child Care Licensing. But inappropriate comments made by Health Department Director Dr. David N. Sundwall to Rothschild and another job candidate cost taxpayers $75,000 in settlements for the employment discrimination claims, according to state officials.

Sundwall also was issued a stern written warning by the state's human resources director informing him than any further "adverse actions will lead to further discipline, including up to termination."

The letter, dated Dec. 14, 2006, also reprimanded Sundwall, saying that as executive director of the department he "knew or should have known that the interview communication was, at best, inappropriate."

After Sundwall's interviews with Rothschild and another job finalist, Pennie Knudson, the Department of Human Resource Management received complaints, said Jean Mills-Barber, human resource deputy director.

Rothschild claimed age discrimination based on specific questions asked during his interview. Knudson claimed a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act based on comments made during her interview, Mills-Barber said. Her department was not aware of any additional complaints about Sundwall, she said.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Knudson were unsuccessful. Messages were left at a telephone listing for her name Friday and Saturday.

The complaints were investigated by the Department of Human Resource Management and were resolved internally, without legal action or an admission of guilt, said Charla Haley, a spokeswoman for the Health Department.

The allegations against Sundwall and the settlement paid to Rothschild and Knudson were first reported Friday by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly.

A settlement of $50,000 was paid to Knudson and a $25,000 settlement was paid to Rothschild, confirmed Roger Livingston, director of the state's Risk Management Division.

Before being tapped by Gov. Jon Huntsman to head the state's Health Department in 2005, Sundwall, a medical doctor, was the senior medical and scientific officer for the American Clinical Laboratory Association and a former assistant U.S. surgeon general.

"We recognized the comments were inappropriate, and that's why we referred them to human resources for appropriate review and action," said Huntsman spokesman Mike Mower.

Mower said Sundwall is a recognized leader in the field of public health and his job with the state is not threatened.

Sundwall "is well regarded by his peers not only here in Utah but at the national level," Mower said.

Sundwall was not available for comment because he was out of town and not expected back until Monday, Haley said.

Rothschild said as part of the settlement agreement he could not talk about some details of the case. But he said that during the interview Sundwall said, I can't ask you this question, but would you offer to tell me how old you are?

"I did tell him because it's one of those questions where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," Rothschild said.

Rothschild, who was then 65, remembers thinking it was curious because Sundwall seemed about his same age.

"Another question that he asked me was how many more years I planned to work until I retired," he said.

Rothschild operates a large child-care center in Kaysville and was the chairman of an advisory committee to the state Bureau of Child Care Licensing before he was encouraged to apply for the job.

Rothschild said he still sits on the committee and was happy to have the case settled without having it become a legal issue that could have dragged on for years.

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On the Net:

Utah Department of Health: http://health.utah.gov

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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