Six female dispatchers working for EMA all wanted the same thing: to have a male worker, Hess, fired. They filed suit against him alleging sexual harassment. The lawsuit was brought after an investigation into the matter found that Hess “participated in unprofessional behavior and/or behavior of an inappropriate nature, particularly given his management responsibilities.” His punishment, by EMA, was five days off without pay as well as a requirement that he attend non-harassment training and mentoring sessions.
The plaintiffs affected by his behavior were offered the option of being transferred but they allege that even though they requested a change of venue but were not granted transfers. Their supervisor, Teresa Bemiller, is alleged to have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to complaints by the dispatchers regarding the sexual harassment complaints.
“I would have never ignored allegations of sexual harassment,” Bemiller said. “It has been bothersome to me that this was in [the lawsuit]. I never spoke to a dispatcher. I never received a written complaint [per the county’s sexual harassment policy].”
In January, the EMA board voted unanimously to terminate Hess’ employment for “employee dishonesty and loss of confidence by the board in his ability to lead the agency.” This occurred when the dispatchers’ attorney presented evidence to the county regarding harassment issues with Hess while he was employed by the Mohican Juvenile Correctional Family in 2005.
The sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the six dispatchers was settled by way of a settlement agreement. According to the Defendant’s attorney, Mark Troutman, there were three key factors in the settlement: “One, it lets the county continue business as usual,” Troutman said. “Two, there is no county money involved. CORSA (County Risk Sharing Authority), the liability carrier, pays the money. Three, it was CORSA’s call and it made a business decision to settle the case.”
According to public record, the Knox County defendants objected to a settlement, even though the decision was out of their hands. Since a settlement was reached, there will be no trial on the issue and the parties will file for a dismissal of the case from the Federal Court. The settlement included the sum of $74,000 has been awarded to the group of six plaintiffs.
A lot of cases never make it to trial but justice can oftentimes be achieved by settlement agreements, the Harman Firm brings the experience and know-how to any settlement negotiation concerning employment issues.