Politics & Government

Vulgar comments. Inappropriate touching. Fayette coroner sued for alleged harassment.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn spoke during a re-interment ceremony for 178 individuals held in the gymnasium on the Old Eastern State Hospital campus at 4th Street and Newtown Pike in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, May 14, 2013.
Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn spoke during a re-interment ceremony for 178 individuals held in the gymnasium on the Old Eastern State Hospital campus at 4th Street and Newtown Pike in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, May 14, 2013. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A former deputy coroner alleges in court documents that longtime Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn grabbed her butt as she climbed down a ladder, bragged about trips to strip clubs and made vulgar and degrading comments about women.

Melissa Neale, who worked in the office for two years until June 2017, alleges in a lawsuit filed Sept. 12 that she was “subject to constant and inappropriate behavior and comments” from Ginn.

Ginn denied the allegations in a Sept. 24 response filed in Fayette Circuit Court. Robert Rives IV, a Louisville lawyer who represents Ginn, said he could not comment beyond what was in court documents. He said Ginn also declined comment.

Neale made several allegations against Ginn, including that he:

Asked female instructors during coroner education cases whether they had reviewed the “bulge in the pants” of male cadavers;

Made obscene comments in front of female employees about “newswomen on the television in regards to their breasts and posteriors or what their lips were good for;”

Groped himself in meetings while talking to Neale;

Routinely discussed strip clubs and various acts strippers performed for male employees in the coroner’s office;

Pretended to help Neale down from a ladder and grabbed her backside.

Neale is asking for unspecified damages in the lawsuit.

She was not able to perform her job duties and forced to resign due to “great embarrassment, humiliation and mental anguish,” according to the lawsuit.

Melissa Neale, former deputy coroner under Gary Ginn, at Evergreen Memory Gardens in Paris. Matt Goins

Ginn’s lawyers also contend that some of Neale’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations and that Neale failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing suit.

Shane Sidebottom, Neale’s lawyer, said Neale reported the allegations to the city’s human resources department. She also forwarded the allegations to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, but withdrew that complaint and filed a lawsuit instead.

Neale’s sexual harassment allegations are within the five-year statute of limitations, Sidebottom said.

Ginn, a Democrat, faces challenger Larry Owens, a Republican, in the Nov. 6 general election.

Sidebottom said Neale’s problems with Ginn started in June 2015, shortly after she started working there. Neale reported her allegations to the city’s human resources department in June 2017, six months before Ginn filed for re-elected.

“Melissa was sexually harassed,” Sidebottom said. “This is not politically motivated.”

The city substantiated six of 13 allegations against Ginn, but said it lacked authority to take action against him because he is an elected county-wide official. The city’s human resource department does not have “authority to direct the coroner or his employees” regarding best practices, the city found.

These are the allegations substantiated by the city’s human resources department against Ginn:

He referred to a male individual on TV as having “pink c---sucker lips.”

He repeatedly referred to the act of sex by saying “he played a little boodle in the cane patch.”

He repeatedly made comments about the body parts of female anchors on the Today Show.

He told inappropriate jokes to a female deputy, including “what did the blind man say when he passed a fish market? Hello, Ladies.”

He referred to a marijuana pipe as a penis.

When a female speaker at a conference fluffed out her dress before sitting down, he said “she’s airing it out boys.”

Four of the six allegations were substantiated after Ginn admitted to making the comments.

Ginn said after the city’s report was released that he had made changes in his office.

Neale’s lawsuit also names the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In court documents, a lawyer for the merged government asked a judge to dismiss the city from the lawsuit because Neale was employed by the coroner’s office, not the city.

This is not the first time Ginn has been involved in controversy.

Ginn acknowledged earlier this year that a woman’s body was kept in the Fayette County coroner’s cooler for 26 years before she was buried. Ginn, who was coroner for 13 of the 26 years Helen Stigall’s body was in the cooler, said he delayed burying the woman because he hoped someone would come forward and positively identify her remains.

Ginn was elected coroner in 2002.

WKYT and the Herald-Leader jointly investigated why remains of a woman and babies were not buried for years.