County settles sex complaint
By Patty Mullins and Lauren Cafferty,
Hill Country News
Copyright 2006The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment with former employee Judith Metzger. But, save for a lone commissioner's comment charging, “cover-up!” no one would explain the vote.
The vote occurred less than 24 hours after Metzger filed a complaint for a lawsuit in federal court seeking $100,000 alleging sexual harassment but not specifically naming anyone.
Official documents released Thursday chronicled a two-year saga that included a sexual relationship between Metzger and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Greg Boatright
, a promotion, a break-up, alleged creation of a sexually hostile environment and disillusionment, which led Metzger to quit her job with the court in June 2004.
The suit was settled officially Thursday by sweet nothings, and not much else. Metzger will receive no public money for her grievances. And everyone involved has to talk nice about each other from now on. Similar arrangements, resulting in no county money officially paid and co-nondisclosure clauses, marked the settlement of suits filed by several fired sheriff's office employees last year.
The county has admitted no wrongdoing in the case.
Metzger had previously filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In July 2005, the EEOC officially closed its investigation into the case, stating the commission was unable to find that the county had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.Cover-up alleged
The major conditions of settlement of the federal lawsuit were that both parties wouldn't divulge details or disparage the other, and that no county money had exchanged hands.
“I didn't want the appearance of a cover-up,” said Commissioner Thomas McDaniel, Precinct 3, right after the vote. McDaniel and Commissioner Lisa Birkman, Precinct 1, dissented with the court on approval of the proposed settlement, which passed by a vote of 3 to 2.McDaniel asked Boatright to recuse himself from the vote, saying Boatright's vote would be a conflict of interest. Boatright, however, cast the deciding vote to settle with Metzger.
“I didn't vote for the settlement because it ‘gagged' me. I didn't have anything to do with case, and I didn't believe that was right, that my free speech was abridged,” McDaniel said Wednesday, as lawyers for both sides were offering no details, only assurances that documents would soon be available.The plaintiff's case
Documents filed by the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit Judith L. Metzger v. Williamson County Commissioners Court, outlines the sequence of events that led up to the suit. Following is a summary of the plaintiff's complaint.
Metzger began working in an entry-level position in the County Clerk's Office in November 2002. She met Boatright in early 2003 and developed a personal relationship. Boatright told Metzger that he was unhappily married; she told him that for a mother of three small children her current job paid too little, around $23,000, and had no room for advancement. He agreed that she was “underutilized” in the clerk's office and offered to help her get a job within the Commissioners Court.
In April 2003, Boatright invited Metzger out for drinks after work, kissed her and gave her his cell phone number. The next month, the couple began a sexual relationship that continued through the fall of 2003. At least three times, Boatright asked Metzger to meet him on out-of-town business trips.
In July 2003, Boatright told Metzger about a job opening as project coordinator and assistant to Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein.
The job offered a much higher salary, $34,000, and had plenty of room for advancement. At about that time, Metzger accompanied Boatright, at his request, on a trip to Fort Worth. Soon afterward, Boatright told her she got the job.Gossip soon led many county employees to suppose that Metzger had gotten the job because of her relationship with Boatright. Despite Metzger's worries about the rumors, Boatright was unconcerned and wanted to continue the affair.
In December 2003, Metzger's ex-husband learned about the liaison and sent an e-mail to several commissioners and Williamson County Judge John Doerfler threatening to go public and tell Boatright's wife about the affair. To Metzger's relief, Boatright told her he thought they should stop seeing each other.But he continued to ask her to meet him for lunch, for drinks and after work. He often complimented her appearance in front of co-workers and asked about her love life, always greeting her by saying, “Hello, beautiful,” signaling to Metzger that he did not think the relationship was over.
Voters elected Lisa Birkman to replace Heiligenstein as commissioner of Precinct 1 in April 2004. When Metzger met with Birkman to discuss her job duties, Birkman made clear that she did not support the county's participation in the clean air initiative, which had been a main focus of Metzger's duties.
Metzger felt conflicted and discussed her situation with Judge Doerfler, who suggested that she transfer to another department. After commissioners discussed the matter in executive session, Metzger was informed that they had decided to transfer her to Boatright's Precinct 2 office, where she would report to his administrative assistant, Kathy Grimes.
Metzger was uncomfortable working in Boatright's office and felt she had no choice but to resign her position in June 2004. While discussing her resignation over lunch with Boatright, he said he thought she would enjoy working in his office, then suggested they “get together at her apartment for sex before returning to work.”The county's side of the story
The county's lawyer, Cornell, Smith & Mierl, filed with the EEOC a five-page letter offering its side of the harassment charges. Following are the highlights of that document.
After Metzger expressed her dislike of working in the County Clerk's office, she applied for an internally-posted position in Precinct 1 as director of special projects. She was promoted to the new job in October 2003 and worked with Heiligenstein and other commissioners on various projects, including clean air and environmental projects.
When Birkman took office in May 2004, she scheduled a meet-and-greet with her new staff to discuss their responsibilities. She was surprised when Metzger declined to attend, saying she had other meetings to attend. Birkman discovered that she was attending voluntary committee meetings, many of which were out of the county. When Birkman finally met with Metzger, she told her that she should cut down her attendance of such meetings. She also told Metzger that the clean air program was not one of her primary objectives. Metzger seemed “less than receptive of any changes.”
At one point, Birkman heard the phone ringing and asked Metzger to answer it. Metzger responded, “It is not my job to answer the phone.” Birkman told her that when the office assistant was absent, she would have to answer the phone.
Soon afterward, Metzger and Birkman argued when Birkman denied Metzger's requested personal vacation days for staffing reasons. Metzger had requested personal days off when Birkman was scheduled to be out of the office on county business. Metzger protested and took her complaint to the county judge, who stood by Birkman's decision.
A few weeks later, Metzger requested a transfer to the Fleet Department, which is a separate division in the county, outside the authority of the Commissioners Court. She was informed that such a transfer would not be possible.
In late May, Birkman told other commissioners that she did not want to continue to supervise Metzger. Since Boatright's office had taken over the clean air programs that Metzger had been working on, commissioners transferred her to Boatright's office, where she would report directly to Grimes. Metzger protested, stating that she had a college degree and Grimes did not, so it was “unsatisfactory” for her to report to Grimes.
On June 2, 2004, just a few days after learning about her transfer, Metzger submitted her resignation to Birkman.
Seven months later, she filed the sexual harassment complaint, stating she had ?n discriminated against because of her sex, female (sexual harassment) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”Federal documents
According to the three-page federal court document filed and stamped Oct. 31, Metzger sought damages for what she claimed was a forced job transfer into a “sexually hostile work environment.”
The complaint claimed Metzger suffered economic and emotional damages.
“s a result of Defendant's actions, Plaintiff has suffered damages in the form of lost income and employment benefits. These economic damages currently exceed $100,000 and continue to accrue. Plaintiff also suffered mental anguish and emotional pain and suffering for which she seeks compensation,” the complaint states.
The complaint claimed Metzger suffered sleep disorder and irritable bowel syndrome “s a result of the stress caused by the Defendant's actions.”
The complaint invoked Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits ... “unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual's employment.”
“As shown above, Plaintiff has sustained economic and non-economic damages as a result of Defendant's actions,” the complaint states.
Generally, Metzger sought lost pay, back pay, lost benefits, damages for pain and suffering, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and costs, and any other relief entitled.Further details
A more extensive set of documents released late Thursday included the unfiled federal pleading by Metzger, EEOC discrimination complaint and response letters, workforce complaint forms, and Metzger's letter of resignation. Metzger first made allegations of sexual discrimination in a complaint filed with the EEOC on Feb. 7, 2005; the county spent at least $8,000 contesting this claim, which alleged sexual harassment as well.
To the issue of Metzger's resignation, she asserted that she had no choice.
The County's law firm had responded to this charge in their EEOC response letter:
“WILCO denies that Boatright or any WILCO employee sexually harassed Charging Party . . . . Further, at no time during her employment did she ever raise the issue of sexual harassment or raise a complaint of sexual harassment to WILCO's Professional Human Resources Department,” the letter states.
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