LAWRENCEBURG — A jury returned a verdict Thursday denying the claims of a former Anderson County Fiscal Court employee who alleged she was sexually harassed and illegally fired.
Lea Beasmore, who sought more than $1 million in damages, had said in 2009 that the fiscal court and then-Judge-Executive Steve Cornish violated her civil rights and violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act when she was terminated in March of that year. The whistle-blower law protects public employees who expose wrongdoing.
A jubilant Cornish said he felt vindicated by the verdict.
"I had complete faith in the turnout. This is what I was expecting the whole time," he said. "I'm tickled that it's over with." Cornish was defeated in the May 2010 Democratic primary.
Beasmore had no comment, but her attorney, Ken Henry of Louisville, said she was "obviously disappointed" with the verdict.
"It's terribly disappointing when the things that were admittedly going on in county government don't rise to the level of a hostile work environment," Henry said. "It's extraordinarily hard on the victims in these cases, and that's why there are so few of these types of cases."
Among the allegations in Beasmore's complaint was that a county building inspector brought a vibrator into her office and gave it to her. On another occasion, Beasmore alleged, the building inspector and another county employee asked Beasmore and another woman to step into an office and watch a video on a work computer of two people engaged in sexual intercourse.
Beasmore also alleged that county road foreman Chip Chambers was verbally abusive to her and that his behavior constituted sexual harassment. Chambers is no longer with the road department.
To return a guilty verdict on the claim of sexual harassment, the five men and seven women on the jury were instructed that they must be satisfied of three things:
■ That the fiscal court subjected Beasmore "to unwelcome verbal conduct or material of a sexual nature."
■ That such conduct was "so severe or pervasive that it created an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."
■ That such conduct caused "injury to Beasmore's psychological well-being."
The jury answered that it was not satisfied all three conditions had been present.
Beasmore also had alleged that she made several good-faith efforts to report mismanagement and failure by another supervisor, finance officer Rick Waddle, in his job duties. In one instance, Waddle had failed to pay the county employees' life-insurance bill, court documents say. In three other instances, Beasmore reported that Waddle had mismatched purchase orders and invoices.
Waddle and another employee, Renee Evans, eventually went to Cornish and asked that something be done about Beasmore because she was creating too much dissension in the office, the suit says. Beasmore alleges that Waddle admitted having a grudge against her for reporting the failure to pay the life-insurance bill.
According to the suit, Cornish called Beasmore into his office on March 2, 2009, and told her that she could resign or that he would fire her. She refused to resign, so Cornish fired her.
On a second question, the jury was asked: "Are you satisfied from the evidence that Lea Beasmore made a good-faith report or disclosure to the county judge-executive of facts or information relative to actual or suspected mismanagement and/or waste, and that such report or disclosure was a contributing factor in the decision to discharge Lea Beasmore from her employment with Anderson County Fiscal Court?"
The jury, which deliberated less than five hours, also answered "no" to that question.