Fayette County

Lexington government pays $225,000 to settle jail lawsuit

The Urban County Government has paid $225,000 to settle a lawsuit filed last year by a Fayette County Detention Center officer who contended that jail officials violated the whistle-blower statute and retaliated against her for informing authorities that a persistent felony offender was working as a court officer at the jail.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Newberry, confirmed the amount this week.

Doris Zirbes said in her January 2009 lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court that she was stripped of her rank and placed on leave for informing police and Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson that Francis Baker, a pre-trial officer at the jail, had a lengthy criminal record and regularly had access to law-enforcement databases.

Baker's job was to monitor inmates and provide information to judges, which factored into decisions about bail. Zirbes said Baker continued to access sensitive information with the jail's knowledge after the Kentucky State Police ordered him not to do so.

At the time, city officials said in response to the suit that they did not retaliate against Zirbes but did warn her not to talk to outside agencies about problems at the jail.

In July 2009, after a Herald-Leader article about the Zirbes case, state Administrative Office of the Courts officials said that they erred in hiring a persistent felony offender who was on parole to work as a court officer and that the AOC was changing its rules to make sure the mistake wasn't repeated. Baker was transferred to a desk job at AOC's Frankfort headquarters

On Tuesday, Zirbes' attorney, Shane Sidebottom, said Zirbes would continue to work at the detention center.

"Officer Zirbes is very pleased that her lawsuit could be resolved amicably. She has always tried to do the right thing in her 12 years of service at the detention center, and she will continue to serve the public to the best of her ability," said Sidebottom, who is based in Northern Kentucky.

After Zirbes' lawsuit and at least two others that alleged sexual harassment, sexual discrimination or retaliation, Newberry asked the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in January to investigate allegations of "a sexually hostile work environment" at the detention center.

That investigation is continuing.

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