In May, two female employees of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Arkansas received the biggest settlement in Washington County history: $395,000. Lori Schmidt, a former sergeant, and Stephanie Guenther, a former corporal, sued the Sheriff’s Office for sexual harassment in November 2009. They claimed that Sheriff Tim Helder and his subordinates permitted open discussion of sexual practices and that the strip search of female inmates was ordered in front of video cameras.
This blog has discussed some of the past humiliations Schmidt and Guenther had to endure before achieving this victory. Sheriff Helder called them “liars” on television. Transcripts of witnesses were filled with criticisms of Captain Osburn, whom they said liked to discuss breast augmentation and preferred to have women prisoners strip searched in the hallway instead of the women’s showers so that he could watch on the monitors in his cubical. When Schmidt voiced a complaint, she was transferred to the night shift, even though with her seniority, she could have remained on the day shift. After she sued for sexual harassment and retaliation, she was moved to an even worse shift that prevented her from seeing her family.
In September 2009, Schmidt and Guenther filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Two months later, they filed their complaint in the Western District of Arkansas pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various laws of the state. The specific allegations included Captain Osburn making inappropriate remarks about the type of breast augmentation that two coworkers intended to get, crude descriptions of sexual practices involving chocolate syrup and peanut butter, and telling one coworker whom she could and could not have sex with. Although Osburn’s “wife swapping” parties were widely known–he “invited” junior officers and deputies in his office–he was not disciplined. One senior officer also knew about a photo of Guenther’s breast that Captain Osburn shared with the rest of the office without Guenther’s knowledge.