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In Whistleblower Lawsuit, Former Employee Alleges Multnomah County Housed Homeless Child in Motel Infested with Bedbugs

“The child was bitten pretty bad, and I told them the county wanted them to stay in that room.”

A former Multnomah County employee sued the county today, alleging that it housed homeless families in a motel where rooms were infested with bedbugs and then declined to renew his contract after he reported the matter to Child Protective Services.

John Summerville, who filed the lawsuit May 26 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, worked as a health and wellness specialist at the Portland Value Inn Motel last fall, which was used by the county as a facility to send homeless families to isolate who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Summerville sent an email to a Child Protective Services investigator for the state on Sept. 15, reporting that a child and her mother had been isolated in a motel room infested with bed bugs, and the child had subsequently been ridden with bug bites. WW has reviewed the email. The subject line of the email was “Child Abuse.”

Summerville wrote to the investigator in the September email: “A guest staying there with their child was admitted to a room infested with bedbugs. This child had dozens of bites on her and when staff requested to move guest to different room we were told by the shelter lead not to move them. And they had to stay in the same room until discharge, being exposed to continued physical suffering.”

Summerville continued: “I cannot condone nor allow myself to participate in any actions that involve a child being harmed. Not only the child and other guest were exposed and suffered, this put every mandatory reporter at risk of losing their licenses and certifications they earned prior to working for [the county].”

He emailed the county the email he had sent to the investigator the day after.

Summerville tells WW the child was about 6 years old and, when he notified the shelter lead about it, was told the mother and daughter had to remain sheltered in the room.

“The child was bitten pretty bad, and I told them the county wanted them to stay in that room, which is ridiculous because they’re in isolation for 17 days, and the bed bugs will multiply in that time period,” Summerville says. “They went out and did all their laundry and cleaned it to get rid of the bugs, and I was hoping to put them in another room when they got back from cleaning, and I think they stayed at a friend’s house that night, and when they came back they were ordered to stay in that same room.”

Summerville tells WW his contract with the county was up in October, and he was the only contractor of hundreds he knew whose contract wasn’t renewed.

He says he later filed a report with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries for the termination of his employment by the county.

The lawsuit, filed by Portland attorney Michael Fuller, alleges the county terminated Summerville’s employment in October and, by doing so, retaliated and discriminated against him for whistleblowing for reporting the county to a regulatory agency.

“Multnomah County then discriminated and retaliated against Mr. Summerville based on a pretext and terminated his employment on Oct. 23, 2020, because he had reported information he believed to be evidence of a violation of a state or federal law, rule, or regulation, causing Mr. Summerville lost wages and emotional harm and interference with daily life activities,” the lawsuit reads. “In January of 2021, Mr. Summerville served Multnomah County with a tort claim notice. He had previously reported the illegal child abuse to Child Protective Services and filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.”

Fuller tells WW this is “one of the cleanest whistleblower cases I’ve seen because of the email he sent,” and adds, “We haven’t seen any justification from the county yet as to why they terminated him.”

A county spokesperson told WW, “Multnomah County does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

Summerville seeks no more than $45,760 in damages and a judicial order prohibiting the county from “engaging in the unlawful practices giving rise to this complaint.”

He also seeks reemployment with the county.