One of two women to file a sexual harassment complaint against the county's Office of Emergency Management director has removed herself from the federal case against Shelia Bellott and other county officials.
A notice of stipulation acknowledging that Mary Johnson planned to distance herself from the case was filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Arkansas' Western Division in Little Rock on July 19. Later that same day, a district judge OKed allowing Johnson, a former Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management employee, to withdraw herself from the suit.
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.'s ruling left Julie Woodward as the sole individual in the suit against Bellott, County Judge Jim Baker and Tom Anderson, who is the county's administrator. All three included in the suit are accused in their official capacities as county officials.
The sexual harassment suit filed in federal court in fall 2017 is scheduled to go before a U.S. judge later this year.
According to a scheduling order, the matter is set to be heard by Judge Moody "sometime during the week" of Nov. 26.
The initial investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Bellott ensued after four OEM employees contacted Whitney Doolittle, the county's human resources director, about inappropriate talk and incidents involving Bellott.
Doolittle and County Attorney David Hogue conducted a three-week investigation before presenting their findings to County Judge Jim 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 Director Tyler Lachowsky and not to talk about anything sexual at work, a move that, according to the newly filed 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.”
According to the complaint, after the sexual harassment allegations came to light, Bellott was asked to work from home before being relocated to an office in the Old Courthouse on Locust Avenue, which is more than five miles away from the Office of Emergency Management building located on Acklin Gap Road.
The federal complaint details Bellott’s alleged actions that caused the OEM staff to feel “uncomfortable,” describing a May 23, 2017, incident where “Bellott entered Julie’s office that morning to tell her about her ‘date’ the night before.”
Johnson was present during the conversation, according to the complaint.
“Defendant Bellott stated to Julie and Mary that she had ‘butt dialed’ Defendant Anderson, and that he called her back and allegedly, Bellott and Anderson discussed the ‘drive of shame,’” the complaint reads. “Defendant Bellott proceeded to tell Julie that she was going to have sex with her date (using vulgar words) that coming night...”
The complaint continues to describe “vulgar” hygienic descriptions of how Bellott said she would arrive to work the day following her date.
At this point, the plaintiffs requested Bellott end the conversation, noting they felt Bellott’s descriptions of her sexual encounters were “distasteful and uncomfortable.”
The complaint states the alleged harassment continued into the next day, noting Bellott followed one of the plaintiff’s around the office after being asked to refrain from such behavior.
The plaintiffs stated they do not feel their complaints were rightfully handled.
“As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ conduct, the Plaintiffs have suffered damages including anxiety, humiliation, emotional distress and anguish, and loss of reputation,” the complaint reads.
Cody Hiland, former 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney who now severs as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, also conducted an investigation following the initial complaints against Bellott, who has served as the county's OEM director for nearly 10 years, and also recommended she be fired.