Commonwealth Journal

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September 20, 2013

Ex-assistant sues jailer

Somerset — A former assistant to Pulaski County Jailer Mike Harris filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, claiming that Harris violated her civil rights by “conditioning her employment on submitting to Harris’ sexual demands.”

Somerset attorney Robert Norfleet filed the lawsuit in United States District Court in London, Ky. on behalf of Rebecca Moses, who worked at the Pulaski County Detention Center from June through August 2012.

Also named in the lawsuit was Pulaski Fiscal Court — county judge-executive Barty Bullock and magistrates Mike Strunk, Glen Maxey, Tommy Barnett, Mike Wilson and Jason Turpen.

The lawsuit alleges the sexual harassment began almost immediately — Moses claims that during her first week of employment, Harris told her to wear mini-skirts and stilettos to work.

“While working at PCDC, Moses’ employment was conditioned on her submission to the sexual advances of her supervisor, Harris, and to otherwise endure a work environment permeated with sexually charged comments, innuendo, inappropriate touching and other demeaning, humiliating, embarrassing, intimidating and threatening conduct directed toward Moses based on her sex,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit claims that Harris’ conduct “was at all times unwelcome by Moses” and that Harris terminated Moses’ employment at PCDC “when she refused to submit to Harris’ sexual advances.”

The lawsuit also claims “Harris had a known history of sexually harassing female employees and his ongoing harassment of Moses was widely known within the Pulaski County Detention Center and among members of Pulaski Fiscal Court.”

“The remaining defendants knew, or should have known, about Harris’ sexually harassing conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.

A source close to county government said yesterday Moses never complained about Harris’ alleged actions to anyone in Bullock’s office.

The lawsuit alleges that Harris had a romantic relationship with one former assistant, and had another employee transferred to the Pulaski Animal Shelter when she spurned his sexual advances.

Moses alleges in the lawsuit that Harris introduced her as his “woman” or his “wife” during state conferences they attended together.

“Unlike the expectations placed on Moses and other female PCDC employees, male employees did not have to suffer the indignity of being referred to as ‘baby,’ ‘honey,’ or otherwise being identified as the jailer’s ‘woman’ to other state and county officials, being required to pander to Harris’ ego, being expected to act as a piece of ‘arm candy’ at work functions with other state and county officials, being expected to have a child with Harris or otherwise being expected to be Harris’ paramour ...,” the lawsuit reads.

Moses accused Harris of intimidating her by taking her to an isolated location to show her where he’d had sex with other women. Harris, who was allegedly armed during the encounter, told Moses he “wouldn’t molest her unless she wanted him to” and told Moses that if a former staffer ever told anyone about her sexual relationship with him he would have to “kill” her because a “divorce would cost him over a million dollars.”

Moses claims Harris said he sought her out for employment because his wife couldn’t have children, which he desperately desired.

The lawsuit also claims Harris offered Moses money for a manicure and pedicure prior to a jailer’s conference and also offered her money for clothes. The lawsuit claims Harris was visibly upset when Moses refused to take his money.

The lawsuit also alleges Harris “intentionally, maliciously and unlawfully touched Moses in a harmful and offensive manner on several occasions during her employment at PCDC.”

Moses claims in her lawsuit that Harris spit on her and knocked a phone out of her hand “to prevent Moses from reporting Harris’ inappropriate ... actions to Harris’ wife.”

After Moses was fired, she was offered  “an alternative, lower-paying job, but then was threatened with disciplinary action if she returned to employment at PCDC.”

Moses is seeking a jury trial; an issuance of an order preventing the defendants from discriminating or retaliating against her in the future; all lost wages, including back pay, that Moses would have earned to her retirement age; all lost benefits, including health care premiums, retirement contributions, and retirement benefits; damages for humiliation and emotional distress; and punitive damages against Harris.

Moses filed a charge of discrimination with the Unites States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Sept. 28, 2012.

On June 24, 2012, the EEOC closed its file and issued the following determination: “Based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that (Harris) is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”

The EEOC added that Moses “may file a lawsuit against the respondent(s) under federal law based on this charge in federal or state court.”

“This matter was previously presented to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which was unable to conclude that the information obtained established a violation of the statutes that are contained in the Plaintiff’s Complaint, said attorney Charles Cole of Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC, Lexington, Ky., who is representing Harris. “Otherwise, the Complaint is lengthy and I have been unable to fully review it, so I withhold further comment at this time.”

A civil lawsuit is a series of allegations against the defendants and does not indicate guilt or innocence.

Cole said last night a response to the lawsuit will be filed in the next three weeks.

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