MOUNT VERNON — An answer has been filed to the harassment and discrimination suit filed this summer by six women against Emergency Management Director Brian Hess, several county officials and members of the Emergency Management and 9-1-1 boards.
Most of the 18-page reply consists of simple denials of most of the allegations contained in the suit. However, the suit does contain a dozen specific defenses against the charges and, in the last defense, asks that the case be dismissed with prejudice.
These defenses include:
•A claim of immunity for the defendants under Ohio law.
•Some of the women filing the suit failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.
•The statute of limitations had expired on some incidents in that claims were not filed with the EEOC within 300 days of their occurrence.
•The plaintiffs failed to follow the policy and procedure that was in place for addressing complaints of sexual harassment and other discrimination.
•The proper remedy for the allegations was the binding grievance and arbitration procedure that was included in the collective bargaining agreement.
With the filing of the answer to the initial lawsuit, the case now moves into the discovery phase, Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher explained. During that time, the attorneys will exchange evidence, answer written questions, produce documents and take depositions of witnesses.
How long that will take is unclear. The court will either set a date by which discovery will be complete or have a meeting with the attorneys to determine how long they need.
Once discovery ends, attorneys will file motions and the court will schedule a trial date. Negotiations to settle the case out of court could happen at any time.
The suit was filed by Nicole S. Crabtree, Donna J. Durbin, Leslie R. Orr, Lisa D. Pay, Lisa L. Smith and Patricia L. Stewart. They claimed that Brian Hess, at the time director of the Emergency Management Agency and Knox County E-911 coordinator, sexually harassed 9-1-1 dispatchers and created a hostile work environment in the 9-1-1 Emergency Call Center. The suit also charged that the sheriff, county commissioners and members of the 9-1-1 and EMA boards “conspired together to deprive the plaintiffs a safe work environment after they failed to act on complaints of Hess’ behavior, failed to reprimand Hess after an investigation and failed to protect the plaintiffs from retribution on Hess’ part.”
The suit named Hess; Sheriff David Barber; Knox County Commissioners Alan Stockberger and Teresa Bemiller; former Knox County Commissioner Bob Wise; 9-1-1 Board and EMA Board members Claude Gates, Robert Shipley, Roger Hite, Barry Bowden, Roger Reed, Richard Mavis, Alan Kitner, Shawn Christy, Jim Hughes, Larry Stimpert and Kelly Brenneman. The suit also named Brandy Dorgan and Jeffrey Stankunas, representatives of the law firm Ledman and Teeror LLP, who investigated allegations against Hess in 2010, and their supervisor Brant Isaac.
Some of the allegations against Hess were that he committed lewd actions, inappropriate touching and comments to the plaintiffs about themselves or other Knox County employees.
The plaintiffs claimed they took their complaints to Barber in “at least” March 2010 and also approached Stockberger and Bemiller with their concerns. They claim the three “failed and refused” to take prompt action and that after a discrimination and harassment policy was implemented in January, Hess retaliated with threats and intimidation to the point where they feared for their safety and employment.
One of the complaints had nothing to do with the harassment claims, Leslie Orr and Lisa Pay both claimed they lost their jobs in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Attorney William Curphey, who is representing the plaintiffs, said those complaints were included in the suit because “the judge would have ordered them included anyway.”
Curphey said when the suit was filed, “These women aren’t looking for money, they want him (Brian Hess) fired.”