A request to dismiss the pending sexual harassment case against Faulkner County officials was struck down by a federal judge last week.
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. on April 3 struck down the defendants' request to dismiss the sexual harassment case filed against them in fall 2017.
Last year, one of two women who filed a sexual harassment case against Faulkner County and three of its top officials removed herself from the suit. Soon after, an amended complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of Arkansas, consolidating claims against Faulkner County Director of Emergency Management Sheila Bellott, County Administrator Tom Anderson and County Judge Jim Baker to a suit solely against the county.
A request for summary judgment on the defendants’ behalf states claims against each aforementioned employee was “redundant.”
The remaining plaintiff, Julie Woodward, alleged she was subjected to a hostile work environment while employed at the Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management.
The case was put on hold after Woodward's attorney died. However, now that she is represented by Justin C. Zachary, Judge Moody has lifted the stay.
In an order signed last week, he said he will soon issue "an amended final scheduling order resetting this case for trial and resetting all pretrial deadlines."
The sexual harassment was previously set to go to trial in November 2018.
The initial investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Bellott ensued after four OEM employees contacted the county’s human resources director about inappropriate talk and incidents involving Bellott.
Whitney Doolittle and county attorney David Hogue conducted a three-week investigation before presenting their findings to Judge 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 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.”
Mary Johnson was present during the conversation, and initially was a plaintiff in the matter. Johnson has since been dismissed from the case upon her own request.
The suit also describes Bellott using “vulgar” hygienic descriptions and claims others found her descriptions of her sexual encounters to be “distasteful and uncomfortable.”
Cody Hiland, former 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney who now serves 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 10 years, and also recommended she be fired.