Home > Local > SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST CUMBERLAND COUNTY SETTLED FOR $1.1 MILLION

SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST CUMBERLAND COUNTY SETTLED FOR $1.1 MILLION

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According to a consent decree filed in court today, Cumberland County has agreed to $1.1 million settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice regarding former solid waste director Mike Harvel.

The document states as follows:

“In settlement of the United States’ claims for relief, Cumberland County agrees to pay a total of one million, one hundred thousand dollars ($1,100,000) through, in part, proceeds from its insurance coverage, will direct the payment of $1,075,000 in monetary relief to the relief participants in exchange for releases of their claims.

Cumberland County will also direct the payment of $25,000 in attorney’s fees to their attorney, John Nisbet.”

In addition, the county agrees to:

  • Not engage in any act or practice that discriminates against any employee on the basis of sex or retaliates against any employee in violation of Title VII;
  • To the extent proscribed by Title VII, discriminate against any person because that person participated in or cooperated with the United States’ investigation of Cumberland County, participated in the litigation of this case, complained about or opposed the challenged employment practices, or received or sought relief or otherwise benefited from the terms of this decree.

Within 30 days of the date of entry of this decree, Cumberland County will adopt the parties’ agreed-upon revised Sexual Harassment Policy and the parties’ agreed-upon revised Complaint Process for Reporting Abusive Conduct, Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Workplace Violence (“Procedure”).

Within 30 days of Cumberland County’s adoption of the revised Policy and Procedure, Cumberland County will implement them by:

  1. Distributing the revised Policy and Procedure to all Cumberland County employees;
  2. Documenting that each employee has received the revised Policy and Procedure; and
  3. Posting the revised Policy and Procedure on its website and in its facilities.

Within 90 days of Cumberland County’s adoption of the revised policy and procedure, Cumberland County will provide to all Cumberland County employees the parties’ agreed-upon training on the revised policy and procedure.

Cumberland County will document that each employee has completed the training.

Thereafter, Cumberland County will provide to each new employee the Parties’ agreed upon training within fifteen (15) days of hire or, in the case of community service workers, as soon as practicable but no later than two (2) days after beginning his/her community service assignment.

The decree will remain in effect for 18 months from the date of entry of this decree. The United States may move the court to extend the duration of the decree and the court may extend the term only upon a showing of (1) Cumberland County’s substantial non-compliance with this decree during its term, and (2) good cause for extending the term. Absent an extension, the decree will expire without further order of the Court at the conclusion of this 18 month period.”

The official release from the U.S. Department of Justice is as follows:

The U.S. Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with Cumberland County, Tennessee, to resolve allegations that the County discriminated against ten female employees because of their sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin and religion.  Under the terms of the settlement, which still must be approved by the court in the form of a consent decree, Cumberland County will pay approximately $1.1 million in compensatory damages to ten women whom the United States alleged were sexually harassed by the former director of the County’s Solid Waste Department. Cumberland County will also revise its policies, procedures, and training to better prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Today’s resolution, through settlement, will bring some measure of closure and vindication to the vulnerable women who were victimized by the egregious and abusive behavior in this case,” said Pamela S. Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “Sexual harassment must not be tolerated in the workplace, and we remain committed to eliminating it root and branch through our vigorous enforcement of Title VII.”

“No individual should have to endure the unwanted sexual advances of another, especially from someone who wields a position of authority over another as alleged here,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart. “We will seek all available remedies to address such unwanted and unlawful conduct and will continue to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens. They deserve nothing less.”

“State and local governments are among our largest employers. It is important that they understand that the federal anti-discrimination laws also apply to them,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, District Director of the Memphis District of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “The egregious sexual harassment that these women were subjected to contravenes Title VII. The EEOC will continue to collaborate with the Justice Department to ensure the protection of our workers in governmental workplaces.”

The Justice Department’s complaint, filed March 8, 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, alleged, among other things, that Cumberland County failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the former director of the County’s Solid Waste Department from sexually harassing the women. According to the complaint, the former director regularly subjected the women, who all worked for him, to unwanted sexual contact, including kissing and groping; unwelcome sexual advances, including propositioning the women for sexual favors; and offensive sexual remarks about their bodies and sex acts. The former director has been indicted on criminal charges and is awaiting trial in state court.

Four of the women had filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC’s Nashville Area Office, in its Memphis District, investigated the charges and found reasonable cause to believe Cumberland County discriminated against the four women and other similarly situated employees. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Justice Department brought this lawsuit as part of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the Department and the EEOC in the vigorous enforcement of Title VII.

This lawsuit is part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative, which is aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. It focuses on litigation, outreach and development of effective remedial measures to address and prevent future sex discrimination and harassment.

This lawsuit was handled by Trial Attorneys Jen Swedish and Julia Quinn of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kara Sweet of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee. The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.

The original federal lawsuit was filed by The United States Department of Justice against Cumberland County over sexual harassment and retaliation of employees related to Harvel.

Court documents state ten women are included in the lawsuit that were recipients of improper actions by Harvel who acted at that time as the supervisor over them. The victims are not identified by name in the suit and states the actions of Harvel and the failure to act by the county to stop the harassment along with the lack of a working sexual harassment policy.

An investigation into the charges of discrimination found reasonable cause to believe that Cumberland County violated Title VII when it discriminated against the charging parties and similarly situated employees.

The lawsuit indicates between at least February 2015 and February 2018, Harvel subjected female employees of the Solid Waste Department to unwelcome, non-consensual sexual contact and unwelcome sexual advances. The document states Harvel’s conduct was both repeated and sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of their employment and allegedly threatened to rape at least one woman.

The 10 women found Harvel’s sexual contact, sexual advances, and offensive sexual remarks to be unwelcome, and many went to repeated efforts to get him to stop. The lawsuit states graphic incidents.

Harvel was arrested and indicted on sexual battery, assault, and official misconduct in February 2018. That case is still pending in Cumberland County Criminal Court.

After being notified of one of the women’s (party 1 as in the lawsuit) charge, then County Mayor Kenneth Carey reportedly told then-Interim Director of the Solid Waste Department Kimberly Patterson to “get rid of” Charging Party 1. Patterson understood that Carey wanted Charging Party 1 fired because she had filed an  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge. After Charging Party 1 filed the EEOC charge, Cumberland County reportedly began to remove her employment privileges and change the conditions of her employment.

The suit also indicates during Harvel’s tenure, the county lacked an effective sexual harassment policy.

It further states five of the women reported Harvel’s harassment to their superiors at the recycling center. These complaints did not lead to any action by the county. Others did not complain because they did not believe County Mayor Carey would be impartial based on his personal relationship with Harvel. They also feared termination if they reported the incidents.

The lawsuit concludes with stating the county’s failure to take reasonable steps resulted in the women losing their salary and other benefits of employment, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, and other non-pecuniary losses.

To see the full decree of the settlement. click on the following link:

CC lawsuit decree


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