Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Case Against Sheriff Heading To Trial

Toni Duncan, a corrections deputy for Dakota County, Nebraska, sued the County for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The County sought summary judgment in the case, arguing that Duncan’s evidence was insufficient to allow the case to go to trial.

In opposing summary judgment, Duncan testified that rumors of sexual activity permeated the job. She further stated that on her first day of employment, the Chief Deputy warned her that the “Sheriff would be making advances on her.” To Duncan’s knowledge, the Chief Deputy had a child with one woman who had worked at the jail and another had become pregnant. Duncan was aware that another employee had a sexual relationship with the Chief and was terminated after ending the relationship. She also knew that yet another female employee had a relationship with the Chief Deputy and was promoted. She also testified that pornography and sexual jokes were pervasive in the workplace, preferential treatment was given to women who engaged in sexual activity with superiors.

Duncan submitted the affidavits from several other women who were current or past employees of the Sheriff’s Department. One stated that the Chief Deputy attempted to kiss her, touched her inappropriately on multiple occasions, and promised her an easier work schedule in exchange for “doing a strip tease for him or [posing] for him at work.” Another employee testified that there were numerous allegations that the Sheriff and Chief Deputy were sexually harassing female employees. This employee participated in an investigation of the charges, and believed that the Sheriff and Chief Deputy “sexually harassed female employees at the Dakota County Jail and that all employees were subject to a sexually charged and hostile work environment created by their supervisors and covered up by other Dakota County Commissioners and Dakota County Attorney.”

The Court found this evidence sufficient to defeat the County’s motion for summary judgment and to allow the case to proceed to trial. The Court held that “a reasonable juror could draw an inference of discrimination from the defendant’s actions, if the testimony of the plaintiff and other witnesses were credited. This determination is a fact issue that should be submitted to a jury.

“The evidence indicates that the Chief Deputy has a long history of conduct with employees that could be characterized as harassment. There is evidence from which a jury could infer that other employees received preferential treatment for engaging in sexual relationships with the Chief Deputy. The evidence also supports the inference that the plaintiff was adversely affected by the favoritism. Importantly, there is evidence from which a jury could find quid pro quo sexual harassment and also evidence of unwelcome advances and harassing conduct based on gender. Whether the conduct rose to the level of severe and pervasive conduct that affects a term or condition of employment is for the jury to decide.”

Duncan v. County of Dakota, Neb., 2011 WL 2489918 (D. Neb. 2011).