OMAHA (CN) – A federal prosecutor claims sexism in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Omaha forced her to resign – from a job prosecuting crimes of violence against Native American women.
Jill Finken sued Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Nebraska, on May 22 in Federal Court.
Finken says she was hired in 2012 as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Nebraska’s Omaha office. Her job was funded by a grant from the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women, “for the purpose of prosecuting crimes against women and children occurring on Indian reservations.”
U.S. Attorneys’ Offices fail to prosecute nearly 50 percent of the violent crimes referred to them from Indian reservations, according to a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office. Finken says she was hired specifically “to improve the declination rates in Indian Country.”
But she says she met with resistance from the start, particularly from Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Semisch, who is not named as an individual defendant.
The 18-page complaint describes Semisch as a stereotypical nightmare.
“Mr. Semisch stated that the 13-year-old girl who was the victim of rape had likely caused the situation herself by acting older and flirting with the defendant,” Finken says.
“Mr. Semisch also made comments about how victims of sexual assault and domestic violence should not be believed because they returned to the abuser or acted in a way in which he personally believed a victim of domestic abuse should not act.
“Mr. Semisch would engage in comments indicating gender stereotypes. For example, without any evidence to support his belief he would suggest that female victims were making up the sexual allegations ‘so her boyfriend would not be mad at her.’ …
“As a result of gender bias, rather than focusing on the defendant’s actions, Mr. Semisch focused primarily on attacking the credibility of the female victim,” the complaint states.
She claims she was also accused of “being too big for her britches.”
Despite this resistance, Finken says, she improved prosecution rates. She told Courthouse News in an interview that only one case she handled did not result in conviction, and that one was prosecuted while she was on maternity leave.
But she was passed over for a promotion to a permanent position with Nebraska’s Attorney General’s office, though she was qualified and applied three times, she says in the complaint.
Finken says she graduating first in her class at Drake University Law School, prosecuted civil cases domestically and criminal cases abroad, and should have received preference for her status as a veteran.
Finken served for a year in Afghanistan with the National Guard, which she says triggered post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
She claims that Semisch would “scream” at her if she made suggestions, and even referred to himself as her “abusive husband.”
In one case, Semisch “undermined Jill Finken in front of the jury to such an extent that several of the FBI witnesses made comments about how Mr. Semisch was making Jill Finken look bad,” she says in the complaint.
She claims that coworkers brushed off Semisch’s behavior by stating that “everyone knew that Mr. Semisch had a problem with women.”
She says she complained to an administrative officer and to U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg, neither of whom investigated her claims.
After Finken filed an EEO complaint, her cases were assigned to other lawyers, and she resigned a month later. “Jill Finken understood that she was never going to be promoted to a permanent position in that office,” the complaint states.
Finken told Courthouse News that her lawsuit touches on an issue that is bigger than her personal plight.
“The reality is that there was a need for this project due to the declination rate of violent sex crimes,” Finken says. “This is about how we see women in the workplace, and how we see and credit female victims.”
Defendants did not respond to a request for comment.
Finken seeks damages for violations of the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, better training in gender discrimination for supervising attorneys, better monitoring of the workplace, and court oversight of the process.
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