What do you do when you report sexual harassment, your employer does an investigation, the evidence clearly shows that you were sexually harassed, and then you employer issues a report stating your allegations were “not sustained.” And commences to retaliate against you. And gets on TV and calls you a liar.
This is exactly what happened to Sergeant Schmidt and Corporal Guenther of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
After Sergeant Schmidt’s complaint the Sheriff’s office interviewed numerous witnesses. The interviews were recorded and transcripts were provided to the plaintiffs. These excerpts from the witness transcripts are typical:
Witness 1: [Captain Osburn] started talking about how…umm…people he had hooked up I think is what it got started from and uh…he brought up [deputy]’s name and, of course, I heard that story years ago, . . .I reached over and got my MP3 player IPOD and put it in my ear because I knew it was coming…well, it was fixing too, and I was like I know you’re not going to go there…that’s disgusting…I know you’re not going to do that. . . . out the door I went and so, it’s been an ongoing joke, since then they’ll say stuff about chocolate milk and peanut butter and I’m like…ughh…ughh… because that’s really gross. And I remember hearing that from years ago . . . you have to understand…the four men and me. They like to gross me out. . .
Another issue was their Captain’s embarrassing commentaries on breast augmentations surgeries:
Interviewer: Captain Osburn started discussing the number of cc’s that [female officers] were getting in each breast.
Witness 2: Yeah, I remember that.
Interviewer: [she] was like 720 maybe slightly more in the other… about 760. So Captain then asked [female officer] how many cc’s she had put in hers when she had hers done. Do you remember him asking her that?
Witness 2: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Ok. Then did he call you in and ask you how many cc’s you had?
Witness 2: Yeah.
Captain Osburn himself made it clear there were graphic discussions in the office concerning the details of six breast augmentation surgeries in the presence of supervisors, some of which got out of hand:
Osburn: It’s just that you’ll walk into a situation where there’s…it’s being discussed between two people who…I mean we’ve had about six people? But it’s back in the administration offices and the only really people back there are supervisors. . . . because of the way the offices are set up, they’re talking all the way across one end to the other and it’s normally, it might get out of hand sometimes
During his interview of Captain Osburn Major Hoyt took note of the fact that Captain Osburn’s behavior plainly constituted sexual harassment. He asked Captain Osburn: “Do you think it’s a prudent idea for supervisors, male and female, and the other people around the office to be even talking about these things in retrospect?”
Incredibly, in his Investigation Major Hoyt stated “Many of Schmidt’s allegations were unable to be substantiated and others, when looked into, showed some things were taken out of context and some were unfounded.” He went on to conclude that all of her sexual harassment allegations were “Not Sustained,” including the allegations that Osburn discussed breast surgery in the office in a sexual and offensive way and the allegation that he had told a disgusting sexual story.
Following her complaint Sergeant Schmidt was moved to the night shift, although she had seniority to keep her day shift.
Sergeant Schmidt had two options: go through an appeal of the “not sustained” finding–but the appeal would be to the same people who ignored the evidence–or obtain her own attorney and prove in federal court that she was the victim of sexual harassment and retaliation. She chose the only reasonable option.
After Sheriff Helder learned he was being sued she was moved to any even worse shift where she almost never gets to see her children. Helder made very hostile remarks about Sergeant Schmidt and Corporal Guenther during troop meetings which made them outcasts.
When the lawsuit was filed he called plaintiffs “liars” on TV over their claim that Captain Osburn and a Lieutenant had female prisoners strip searched in a hall with cameras, rather than the women’s showers, so they could watch on monitors located in Captain Osburn’s cubical.
However, Sheriff Helder was quoted in a newspaper story a day later backing off of that claim. In the article, reporter Scott F. Davis wrote: “Helder said an investigation confirmed a strip search had taken place in the hall, but it was never confirmed anyone watched it on video.”
It is difficult to fathom why the Sheriff is calling these women liars when witnesses corroborated all of their sexual harassment claims, or how the County intends to defend this case against such evidence. For more details, read the complaint filed in federal court.