Former employee sues Unified Government for harassment after jury convicts her boss

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A former employee has sued the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, not quite two weeks after a jury convicted her boss of misdemeanor battery against her.

Madeline Waldeck sued the UG on Friday for discrimination, harassment and retaliation stemming from its handling of her complaints that former director of general services, Dennis “Tib” Laughlin, created a hostile work environment toward her, culminating in a 2018 incident in which he grabbed and pushed her.

Laughlin was charged in relation to that incident and was convicted on June 30. A UG spokesman said after the verdict that the UG’s investigation of the matter turned up a different conclusion than the jury’s.

Mike Taylor, the UG spokesman, then said that Laughlin would have been fired had he not resigned following his conviction.

“We haven’t seen it (the lawsuit) yet, but we have no comment on pending litigation,” Taylor said in an email.

A message left for Laughlin was not immediately returned, and lawyers for Waldeck were not immediately available for comment.

Waldeck was hired by the UG in 2013 and was assigned to work with Laughlin in 2016. Laughlin began making suggestive remarks to Waldeck shortly after she started working for him, asking her about whether she “heard the rumor that we are sleeping together,” according to her lawsuit.

Days afterwards, Laughlin struck Waldeck on the arm after she joked about taking a job in Omaha, the lawsuit says.

About a year later, Waldeck said Laughlin referred to her as the “pizza girl” in front of employees, asking why she was not getting pizza for him because he was hungry, according to the lawsuit.

Waldeck complained about Laughlin’s behavior, but Laughlin was dismissive, telling Waldeck that she was “too sensitive.”

Waldeck took her complaints to an assistant county administrator, but Waldeck says in her lawsuit that the UG did nothing about it.

On Jan. 22, 2018, Laughlin attended Waldeck’s grandmother’s funeral and said to her “it’s a shame that your grandmother had to die in order for you to wear a dress like that,” according to the lawsuit.

Waldeck again complained to UG officials about Laughlin’s behavior and requested a transfer out of his chain of command but said in the lawsuit that UG officials did nothing.

Waldeck on April 24, 2018, decided to resign, effective on May 11 of that year. On May 1, as she was preparing to leave work, she said Laughlin grabbed her by her shirt and lanyard and pushed her into a cubicle wall behind her, causing her pain and fright. She called the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department about the incident. She also told the UG’s human relations department about it the following day and was put on administrative leave.

The lawsuit says the UG management knew, or should have known, about Laughlin creating a hostile work environment for Waldeck but did not act on her complaints or a request for a transfer out of his chain of command. The UG is accused of not conducting a “prompt, thorough and honest investigation” of her allegations, causing her no choice but to resign after conditions became intolerable.

Waldeck is seeking missed pay, compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys fees.