Marathon County Library Director Resigns Following Investigation Into Hostile Work Environment

Director, 2 Other Leaders Were On Unpaid Leave Amid Probe

Marathon County Public Library
The director of the Marathon County Public Library has resigned after an investigation uncovered what some employees call a hostile work environment. Rob Mentzer/WPR

The director of the Marathon County Public Library has resigned after employees told an investigator that the library was a hostile work environment for them.

The Library Board on Thursday voted to accept the resignation of director Ralph Illick. Illick and two other senior employees at the library, business manager Tom O’Neill and support services manager Matthew Derpinghaus, were put on unpaid leave this month after the Board heard the results of an investigation conducted by Milwaukee-based law firm von Briesen and Roper. Current and former employees at the library told WPR that the three managers targeted and bullied some workers, causing multiple employees to leave the library.

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The Board referred action on O’Neill and Derpinghaus to Marathon County’s human resources director, who has the authority to fire them.

Employees said Illick and O’Neill operated closely together, making unfair complaints and insulting statements against workers who were out of favor.

The findings of the investigation have not been made public, and the Board did not release further information on Thursday. Board members declined to comment, and Marathon County deputy corporation counsel Michael Puerner gave few details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Puerner did say that the investigation was triggered by “a complaint made regarding the culture of the library.”

WPR first reported the substance of some of the allegations on Wednesday, based on interviews with employees and people familiar with some employee allegations.

According to people with knowledge of one incident, some of the employee complaints uncovered by the investigation stemmed from a sexual harassment allegation that workers did not feel was handled appropriately.

In an interview ahead of Thursday’s meeting, a former employee who worked on Derpinghaus’s team told WPR she communicated with library human resources about her negative experience there after she resigned in 2019. The employee alleged bullying and what she said was an inappropriate sexual comment made by Derpinghaus. WPR is not using the former employee’s name in order to protect her privacy.

This incident, which has not been previously reported, is separate from another sexual harassment allegation sources described to WPR.

Illick, O’Neill and Derpinghaus did not attend Thursday’s Board meeting, which was mostly conducted in closed session and lasted a little over two hours.