Local News Spotlight

Former deputy files sexual harassment suit against Clay County Sheriff’s Office

The suit accuses six male Clay County co-workers of sexual harassment.

Updated: 2012-11-22T01:29:53Z

By GLENN E. RICE

The Kansas City Star

A former Clay County sheriff’s deputy alleges in a civil lawsuit that for more than year, she repeatedly was subjected to persistent, unwanted sexual advances and harassment by six male co-workers.

According to the lawsuit filed by Merri P. Phillips, the sheriff’s office fostered a hostile work environment where Phillips constantly was belittled, degraded and humiliated. On one occasion, a fellow deputy sent Phillips by text a photo of his genitals, according to the lawsuit. When she complained, Phillips’ supervisors dismissed her allegations, labeled her a “troublemaker” and gave her a written reprimand, the lawsuit filed Oct. 31 claims.

“The pleading details some rather atrocious misbehavior that she had to endure,” said Dennis Egan, the plaintiff’s attorney. “We intend to pursue all of her remedies to the fullest extent.”

Clay County Counselor Kevin Graham said he was not in a position to speak to the specific allegations.

“We are reviewing the allegations and preparing our response,” Graham said. “We intend to vigorously defend the county’s position.”

Representatives with the sheriff’s office could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit said Phillips began working for the sheriff’s office on Nov. 22, 2010, and was assigned to the detention center. Phillips claims that the harassment began several months later and gradually accelerated. Phillips resigned in August and later filed a complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission.

After being notified about the complaint, the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation. Several deputies were fired and others were disciplined as a result of the internal investigation, Graham said.

The lawsuit alleges that one deputy made inappropriate sexual comments about Phillips’ body and referred to her with a sexually derogatory name. The deputy also slapped and squeezed Phillips’ rear end, the lawsuit claims.

A second deputy repeatedly asked Phillips to meet him after work for sex, and he grabbed Phillips’ breasts on another occasion.

Phillips said that a third deputy tried to kiss her. A fourth deputy asked her to have sex and sent her a text containing a lewd photo.

The lawsuit also claims that two detention workers walked into a room where Phillips was working and grabbed her. While one worker restrained Phillips’ arms, the other tied her shoelaces together so she could not escape. The officers then removed her duty belt and pants belt and unsnapped her pants. They eventually let Phillips go and laughed about what they did.

In the petition, Phillips said she was “terrified that the officers intended to rape her.”

A female supervisor repeatedly witnessed the inappropriate behavior and did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. Phillips also told her superiors, but they told her to “smile and try to relax,” the petition alleges.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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