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County Called a Sexual Playland

OMAHA (CN) - Eight former employees say the Dakota County Sheriff and the chief of the Department of Corrections use their staff as sexual playthings and fire women who refuse their advances or complain. And the plaintiffs - five women and three men - say Dakota County has "specifically chosen to cover up the behavior."

The eight former employees, who are white and Latino, say Sheriff James L. Wagner and head jailer Rodney Herron created "a work environment where superiors took advantage of their position of power for their own sexual gratification ..." They say women are forced to have sexual relationships drink or be cast out of the group.

The "out" group employees say they were denied promotions that were given to "favored" women. The harassment included being threatened and harassed, shot pepperball guns, doused in the face with hand sanitizer, and one woman says she was duct-taped to a chair. Some say they were forced to quit due to the hostility and some were fired because of their unwillingness to have sex.

In 2007, the Dakota Board of County Commissioners hired an outside law firm, Spencer, Fane, Britt & Browne, to investigate, after receiving complaints from employees. The report was given to the Commission and to the state Attorney General's office, but was never made available to the public, according to the complaint.

The eight former employees say the report lay dormant until June this year when a lawsuit similar to this one was filed. This allegedly prompted the commissioners to "hastily [get] together and [vote] to seal the results from the public, so as to continue to cover up this illicit, illegal and sexually charged behavior."

The eight say the defendants' conduct continues to this day, and that an employee was recently caught on tape having sex in a Dakota County Sheriff's vehicle. The repercussions for this conduct were minimal, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek lost wages and punitive damages for constitutional violations, sexual harassment and a hostile workplace. Defendants include Wagner, Herron, and the county Board of Commissioners.

The plaintiffs are represented by Brian E. Buckmeier and Dewey P. Sloan Jr. of Sioux City, Iowa.

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