Archive for Thursday, December 17, 1998

S HARASSMENT SUIT, DENIES LIABILITY

December 17, 1998

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Attorneys are scheduled to meet today to hammer out a proposed schedule for a case involving a city employee accusing her former boss and current employer of harassment and discrimination.

The city denies being legally responsible for charges of racial discrimination and sexual discrimination and harassment brought by one of its employees.

Gerald Cooley, city attorney, filed papers Wednesday that deny all responsibility for Dylyn R. Williams' charges against the city, its finance department and John Haynes, the department's customer service manager.

Williams has accused the city of harassment and discrimination based upon incidents that occurred from August 1996 to February 1997, when she worked for Haynes as a customer service representative at city hall.

Williams, who is black, has accused Haynes, who is white, of flipping her hair, elbowing her in the back and shaking his body within an inch of hers by an office printer. Haynes also told her that she could empty the trash, and made references to O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson as guilty, Williams said.

Cooley has a simple legal answer to the charges, filed in U.S. District Court in Topeka: Williams doesn't have a case.

"Even if true, the claimed events do not rise to the level required for her to recover," said Cooley, who filed his written answer Wednesday. "That's our defense. We're not saying they're true, but even if they are true" the city is not liable.

Cooley is scheduled to meet today with Williams' attorney, Bonita Yoder, to work out a proposed schedule for the case. Both sides have requested a jury trial before U.S. District Judge Dale Saffels.

Williams is suing the city for more than $300,000, citing a loss of reputation; physical and mental pain, anguish and distress; and emotional distress in the past, present and future.

Williams has worked for the city since 1986. Today she is an account clerk for the city's utilities department, having transferred out of the finance department in November 1997.

An investigation by the city's own human relations/human resources department "verified" a number of the accusations leveled by Williams against her former supervisor. Ray Samuel, the city's director of human relations/human resources, also found "probable cause" that the incidents occurred.

Cooley's case not only denies all of Williams' claims, but also denies that the city could be held liable by the court. Such accusations neither constitute a "hostile work environment" nor offer grounds for any harm, he said in his written answer to the charges.

Williams failed to follow proper procedures for filing complaints involving alleged harassment or discrimination, despite having previously filed at least one complaint -- in a different case -- involving racial discrimination.

In his paperwork filed Wednesday, Cooley also noted that the city reacted properly to Williams' complaints by taking "prompt corrective action." In an interview, Cooley declined to elaborate.

"It's a personnel matter," Cooley said.

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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