Former child welfare worker sues DHS for $2.5 million over dismissal, alleging retaliation

A former child welfare worker who was fired after about two years on the job is suing the Department of Human Services, alleging she was retaliated against after accusing a supervisor of lying and breaking agency policy.

Haylee Cramblit, 23, is seeking more than $2.5 million in damages in the case, which was filed in February in Lane County Circuit Court and moved to the U.S. District Court in Eugene last week. Cramblit worked from November 2020 until February 2023 as a child protective service worker, a job that requires identifying a child’s living conditions and treatment and intervening in cases of abuse or neglect to ensure the child’s safety and well-being.

The complaint said Cramblit “performed exceptionally well” in the job.

“She was a passionate and dedicated advocate for children,” the suit says. “Plaintiff received positive performance feedback and an excellent performance evaluation. She was never reprimanded or counseled during her employment with ODHS and (was) never the subject of discipline prior to her termination.”

She was fired after her supervisor, Jodie Hoberg, accused Cramblit of illegally entering a child’s home to document the living conditions, the suit says. The suit says Hoberg approved the forced entry but then lied to human resources about that.

DHS spokesman Jake Sunderland declined to respond to the allegations, saying the agency does not comment publicly about ongoing litigation.

The incident dates to late October 2022, when Cramblit was assigned to check on a 3-year-old boy who was suspected of abuse and neglect. The suit says DHS had received a report that the child was living in a small trailer without running water or a functional toilet and was exposed to drugs, drug paraphernalia and open waste. Cramblit was told to check on the situation within 24 hours.

Cramblit and a coworker who had dealt with the family before visited the property where the recreational vehicle was parked, according to the lawsuit. An aunt who owned the property was onsite and told child welfare workers that the parents and others came and went from the trailer during the nights, just as they had when they were using heroin and methamphetamine. The aunt said she had observed the boy wearing the same dirty clothes for days, that he appeared unbathed, complained of being hungry and was much less verbal than a normal 3-year-old, according to the suit. 

The aunt let them onto the property and told them to go back to the trailer, which was owned by another aunt. The second aunt told the DHS workers on the phone that the family was only supposed to live in it for a short time. 

The suit says the water and sewage lines to the RV were disconnected, indicating there was no running water or working toilets or sinks in the trailer. Outside were piles of garbage.

The workers knocked on the RV’s door, and no one answered. The mother also did not respond to phone calls, so the workers left, the suit says. The next day the aunt called, saying the parents had returned and left and that she had the child.

Cramblit called Hoberg, described the scene, told her the aunts were worried about the child’s welfare and asked what she should do, the suit says. It says that Hoberg told her to verify that the second aunt owned the trailer and gain her permission to enter the vehicle to photograph the scene.

The suit says the aunt gave them permission to break a window to get into the vehicle. Her colleague broke it, the suit says, and the two workers went inside. The complaint alleges there was no running water, electricity or working toilets, but instead that a bucket had been placed in the toilet and that it had human feces in it next to an “overflowing litter box.”

“The tables, floor and the only bed in the RV were littered with drug paraphernalia, including used heroin foils, loose marijuana and bongs.” the suit says. “There was garbage on all the surfaces.”

Cramblit snapped photos, and the agency tested the child for drugs, the suit says. The test found heroin and methamphetamine in his system.

“Had plaintiff not entered the RV and witnessed the open drug paraphernalia, she would not have had grounds to have the child drug tested,” the suit says.

Cramblit and her colleague agreed that DHS needed to get the child away from the parents, which the agency did after the mother admitted that she and the child’s father regularly used heroin and methamphetamine in the RV with the child, the suit says.

Nevertheless, the mother filed a burglary complaint to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office and claimed to own the trailer even though Cramblit obtained the title showing the aunt was the owner. The father also claimed the photos were illegally obtained, and his lawyer brought that up with the state, the suit says.

The complaint says state officials did not introduce the photos during a custody hearing but custody was temporarily awarded to the state and to date, the boy is still a foster child.

Cramblit says in the suit that she would never have agreed to break into the vehicle if her supervisor hadn’t instructed her to do so. Yet Hoberg filed a complaint to human resources, saying that Cramblit and her colleague decided on their own to break into the trailer without the owner’s permission. The suit says Hoberg not only denied advising them to go ahead but also told them to not break in even with the aunt’s permission because the child was safe with relatives.

Cramblit told human resources her version of the incident and blamed the break-in on Hoberg, the suit says, adding that Brian Yarnell, the DHS official who handled the matter, did not investigate her claims. 

“The allegations against plaintiff were based entirely on the false reporting from defendant Hoberg,” the suit says.

Yarnell and Hoberg are named in the suit along with DHS.

Hoberg recommended that the agency place Cramblit on administrative leave “because it could no longer trust her judgment” and in February 2023 the agency fired her.

The suit says her termination has prevented Cramblit from doing the work that she loves.

“Plaintiff is passionate about working in child welfare.” the suit says. “It is the career field she intended to pursue for the entirety of her working life. The work fulfilled a desire to help children in need and to protect the most vulnerable in our society. She took pride in her role as a (child welfare worker) and found joy and satisfaction in her work.”

The suit says she’s been unable to find a similar position and now works at Subway.

The complaint seeks nearly $1 million in past and future economic damages, along with about $80,000 worth of agency-paid academic training, and is asking for $1.5 million in noneconomic damages.

Her lawyer, Andrea Coit, said Cramblit has been traumatized by her dismissal.

“She thought she was doing everything right, as she had been instructed to do by her supervisor, to help the young child who was actively at risk,” Coit said in an email. “To be accused of being untruthful and summarily expelled from her work on behalf of the children has been heartbreaking for her.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Send an email to Salem Reporter’s news team: [email protected].