A federal judge ruled Thursday that three county employees at the heart of a sexual harassment lawsuit cannot be sued individually regarding the allegations against the county officials.
District Judge James M. Moody Jr. ruled against federal and state civil-rights claims against Faulkner County Director of Emergency Management Shelia Bellott, County Judge Jim Baker and County Administrator Tom Anderson in their individual capacities. The case still stands, however, regarding their official roles with the county.
Because the plaintiff's claims against the county officials do not apply to Bellott, Baker and Anderson as individuals, Moody said he would not allow the case to pursue actions against their individual capacities.
"Plaintiffs' Title VII claims are applicable to employers, not individuals," Moody's order reads. "Likewise, supervisors do not meet the definition of an 'employer'" under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993.
The federal suit stems from a complaint by two county employees — Julie Woodward and Mary Johnson — regarding sexual harassment out of the OEM and how the alleged harassment was handled.
The initial investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Bellott ensued after four OEM employees contacted Deputy County Attorney Whitney Doolittle about inappropriate talk and incidents involving Bellott.
Doolittle and County Attorney David Hogue conducted a three-week investigation before presenting their findings to Baker, who had to decide what disciplinary action to take. Baker was advised to fire Bellott but instead transferred her physical office away from the four employees and directed her not to speak with OEM employees except Chief Deputy Tyler Lachowsky and not to talk about anything sexual at work, a move that, according to the federal complaint, did not relieve tensions at the office.
“The arrangement ... does not relieve the hostile work environment,” the complaint reads. “Defendant Bellott, with the apparent authority of Defendants Anderson and Baker, has continued to place tedious and harassing requirements on the OEM employees, including Julie and Mary. Such behavior on the part of all Defendants demonstrate[s] unwelcome harassment and unprofessional conduct, and reckless conduct from which malice may be inferred.”
County officials said they acted reasonably to resolve the issue.
Attorneys with the Rainwater, Holt and Sexton law firm represent the defendants and submitted an answer to the complaint on Nov. 13 stating: “Separate Faulkner County Defendants exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior and/or the Plaintiffs unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”
Since the federal case was filed, three of the four employees —Woodward, Johnson and Lachowsky — at OEM have resigned.