Suit Over Sheriff’s Office Hijinx Can’t Make Grade

     ATLANTA (CN) – Sexual harassment claims over restroom videotapes captured in a Georgia sheriff’s department belong in state court, a federal judge ruled.
     Clayton County Sheriff Kemuel Kimbrough hired LaDonna Williams as a clerk for the records department in 2010. Williams claimed that the sheriff had flirted with her during the interview and hired her, even though she had failed mandatory tests and the hiring board objected to her employment.
     After Williams began working for the sheriff’s department, Kimbrough stopped by her desk several times a week to “check on her,” according to the federal complaint filed by Williams. To make matters worse, Williams claimed that deputy sheriff Alicia Parkes began making unwanted sexual remarks and advances toward her.
     Parkes allegedly asked Williams to have sex with her and the sheriff, sent Williams nude pictures of herself, told Williams that her breasts were “too large for her bra,” in front of other employees, and “grabbed her own breasts and shook them at plaintiff.”
     Williams further claimed that Parkes had showed her a video she had made of another female employee using the restroom.
     After Williams reported the incidents to her supervisor and to Internal Affairs, Parkes and other employees began harassing her, according to the complaint. Williams said she was transferred to the warrant division, and Kimbrough avoided all contact with her.
     Internal Affairs concluded that both Parkes and Williams had violated policies of the sheriff’s office. Parkes was reprimanded and placed on administrative leave for the bathroom videotaping incident, and Williams was fired in September 2010, according to the complaint.
     Williams then sued Kimbrough and Parkes for First Amendment retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring and retention.
     U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes dismissed Williams’ federal claim for retaliation, noting that its terms applied only to racial discrimination, not to sexual harassment or retaliation stemming from it.
     What’s more, the sexual harassment report Williams filed could not be considered protected speech under the First Amendment, because it did not address a matter of public concern, the Feb. 14 ruling states.
     “Plaintiff’s internal sexual harassment complaint was not designed to publicize malfeasance in the Sheriff’s Office, but to improve the conditions of her employment,” Carnes wrote.
     Williams failed to persuade the judge that a news report on the sheriff’s department scandal proved that she had spoken out on matters of public concern.
     “That the events in the Sheriff’s Office were considered newsworthy does not change the fact that plaintiff only spoke about those events as an employee, rather than as a citizen,” the ruling states.
     After dismissing the federal claims, Carnes declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.
     She also refused to add Clayton County, a chief deputy, and Kimbrough in his individual capacity as defendants.

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