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Bountiful hit with suit over employee giving

Charity group says city discriminates in donation options

SHARE Bountiful hit with suit over employee giving

BOUNTIFUL — A local charity organization has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Bountiful, claiming city officials are violating the group's free speech rights by not allowing the group to solicit donations from city employees.

Community Shares/Utah, an umbrella agency that collects donations through payroll deductions, asserts that Bountiful administrators are discriminating and censoring the group by not allowing it to pitch the idea of charitable payroll deductions to the city's employees, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

Community Shares currently collects donations for organizations such as the Children's Museum of Utah, Humane Society of Utah and Utah Council of the Blind. Employees typically allocate anywhere from $1 to $100 per paycheck to go to the charity of their choice, Community Shares executive director Lynne Brandley said.

"I like to think that everyone would like to give a dollar. . . . It doesn't really matter if you give to United Way or Community Shares," Brandley says. "(But) you have to be good to your employees and let them have options. . . . I was disappointed that the city of Bountiful didn't recognize this."

Bountiful currently allows United Way to collect donations from employees. But Community Shares representatives say in July when they approached the city, administrators refused to allow the group to solicit donations from employees.

Bountiful city attorney Russell Mahan declined to comment Monday.

If the city lets one group solicit employee donations, other groups must be able to do so as well, says attorney Brian Barnard.

"By doing that, you've created a forum . . . you've got to allow everyone to do that," Barnard said. "Community Shares should be allowed to go to employees and ask them to donate."

Community Shares is one of three Utah federations that collects money through payroll deductions; the others are United Way and Community Health Charity. Several businesses utilize two or more of the organizations, said Community Shares executive director Lynne Brandley, and some, like the University of Utah, let employees have a choice among all three.

"As long as they have the opportunity to choose, that's all we ask," she said. "We're asking for the opportunity to participate in (Bountiful's) campaign along with United Way."

According to the lawsuit filed Monday, Bountiful has never established criteria for which agencies should or should not be allowed to collect donations from employees. By allowing one and not the other, the city is discriminating, Barnard says. Community Shares is seeking an injunction and attorney's fees but no monetary damages.

Bountiful city employees were reportedly among the highest-paid city employees in Davis County during the 1999-2000 fiscal year. The average mayor's salary in south Davis County was about $4,200, with Bountiful's mayor receiving about $7,200. Average salaries for city council members were $8,400, and Bountiful council members received $14,400.

E-MAIL: ehayes@desnews.com