The former chief information officer for the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, Slobodan Subasic, filed a lawsuit against the state of Oregon, the OLCC and several state agency managers on Feb. 4.
The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleges that the OLCC wrongfully terminated Subasic, deprived him of due process and medical leave, inflicted emotional distress on him, and retaliated against him for whistleblowing.
Subasic was one of a half-dozen senior managers fired last year in the wake of Oregonian reports about the agency’s handling of rare, expensive bourbons, including Elmer T. Lee- and Pappy Van Winkle-branded bottles.
The OLCC’s former longtime director, Steve Marks, was the first agency executive Gov. Tina Kotek forced out after she took office in January 2023. Marks filed a tort claim notice last year notifying the state he planned to sue for wrongful termination, but he has not yet done so.
Richard Cheverton first reported Subasic’s lawsuit on his Substack page, Portland Dissent.
Subasic’s case is a little different from those of other fired executives caught up in the scandal in that he faces significant physical challenges that play a role in his complaint.
Subasic was “diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 (’SMA’), a progressive neuromuscular disorder that has confined him to a wheelchair since the age of 12,” the lawsuit says. “He also contends with additional medical conditions that greatly affect his capacity to engage in routine daily activities. In his effort to manage these health challenges, he undergoes daily medical treatments and participates in intensive physical therapy sessions.”
He joined the Oregon Health Authority in 2010 and moved to the OLCC, where he was in charge of all of the agency’s technology systems.
Like other senior OLCC managers, Subasic was interviewed in 2022 by agency HR staff looking into whether the agency had improperly diverted highly sought-after bottles of whiskey to themselves and select others. He says he was told he was a “person of interest” in the investigation of whether high-end whiskeys were diverted for purchase by agency officials and their friends.
In his lawsuit, Subasic alleges the internal investigation was mishandled and that HR officials misled Subasic about how it would handle documents generated by his interview with an investigator. In February, the OLCC released the results of its investigation into how rare whiskey was diverted to The Oregonian, which published a number of stories about the issue.
Subasic alleges the agency’s handling of the matter harmed him. “The stress induced by the public release of the confidential HR investigation and the ensuing public outrage significantly affected Plaintiff’s mental and physical health, exacerbating his existing disabling medical conditions,” the lawsuit says. “On Feb. 10, 2023, Plaintiff requested and the OLCC HR subsequently approved him leave under the Oregon Family Medical Leave Act (OFLA) to address his medical and mental health needs.”
A month later, Subasic says, the new OLCC director, Craig Prins, fired him. He is seeking $6 million in damages.
The Oregon Department of Justice, which represents state agencies in court, declined comment.
“DOJ’s Trial Division will review the complaint in due course, but it is unlikely we will have a comment related to this new litigation,” DOJ spokesman Roy Kaufmann said in an email. “In addition, the DOJ Criminal Justice Division has an ongoing criminal investigation of related matters.”