Lawsuit accuses Pulaski County jailer of sexual harassment

bestep@herald-leader.comSeptember 20, 2013 

Photo by Thinkstockphoto.com

SOMERSET — The jailer in Pulaski County told a female employee to wear miniskirts and stiletto heels to work, made comments about her underwear, touched her inappropriately and pushed her to have sex with him, the woman has claimed in a federal lawsuit.

The former employee, Rebecca Moses, said Jailer Mike Harris' improper behavior started when he interviewed her for a job as his assistant in June 2012, saying "baby the jailer" would be one of her duties, the complaint alleges.

Harris became irate and fired her after she refused his advances, Moses said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to compensate Moses for lost wages and benefits and to punish Harris.

The lawsuit is against Harris; the county; and the county judge-executive and magistrates.

The complaint names the other local officials because they knew Harris had a history of harassing female employees but did nothing to correct the problem or protect employees, the lawsuit alleges.

Harris declined comment on the lawsuit Friday on the advice of his attorney, Charles Cole.

Cole noted that Moses filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and that the agency said it could not conclude from the information it obtained that Harris broke the law.

However, the commission, which investigates claims of sexual harassment, also said its decision did not certify Harris was in compliance with the law.

The EEOC decision was not a determination that Moses' claims have no merit, said her attorney, Robert E. Norfleet.

Harris, who is married, told Moses he'd had a sexual relationship with his prior assistant, and also said he had sought out Moses for a job because his wife couldn't have children, which he "desperately desired," the lawsuit alleges.

During her first week on the job, Harris tried to get Moses and other female jail employees to lie in a tanning bed at his home, while his wife was away, to get ready to attend an upcoming conference, the suit said.

Harris arranged to have Moses stay in a room next to his at the conference; put his hand on her leg at dinner; had her stand close to him to show her off; introduced her to others as his "new woman," forcing her to explain that their relationship was not personal; and even referred to her at one point as his wife, the lawsuit said.

When several people from the county went to a nightclub during the conference, Harris flashed his badge at a man who had complimented Moses and threatened to arrest him, Moses says in the complaint.

Moses also said that after Harris grabbed her leg and a nightclub employee told him to leave her alone, Harris "threw a tantrum" and was thrown out of the club.

At the hotel later that night, Harris demanded that Moses come to his room, then got angry when she brought someone with her, the lawsuit claims.

During a rant, Harris got so close to Moses' face he spit on her, then knocked a phone from her hand wen she threatened to call Harris' wife, Moses claims in the suit.

Soon after, however, other jail employees told her Harris had changed his mind, and she went back to work.

One day after that, Harris insisted Moses go with him as he drove around the county.

Harris, who was armed, took her to isolated locations; showed her spots where he said he'd had sex with other women; and, at one spot, told her he wouldn't molest her "unless she wanted him to," Moses said in her complaint.

In August, Harris had Moses attend another conference with him, but got angry when she socialized with others at a piano bar, according to the complaint.

Harris banged on her hotel-room door that night; after refusing to let him in, Moses left the conference in the early-morning hours with another jail employee and a magistrate to return to Pulaski County, the complaint says.

Harris called and fired her during the trip but also allegedly tried to have a county constable intercept Moses and bring her back to the hotel in Louisville, the lawsuit claims.

Moses' lawsuit claims Harris has harassed other employees. In one case, Harris arranged to have a female employee who complained transferred to a lower-paying job at the animal shelter, and other county officials then forced her to withdraw her complaint or be fired, Moses' lawsuit charges.

The lawsuit claims Harris and other defendants violated Moses' rights.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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