US Department of Justice sues Wilson County over 911 operator’s firing after sex harassment claims

Local News

WILSON, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina county’s emergency communications unit engaged in unlawful retaliation when it terminated a worker after she told supervisors that she had been sexually harassed while on the job, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to a department news release Wednesday, Jennifer Riddle began working as a trainee for Wilson County Emergency Communications in 2017 and was soon sexually harassed by the agency’s assistant director. The filing says Riddle complained of the harassment and an investigation substantiated her claims, leading to the assistant director being fired.

After the firing, the lawsuit says, Riddle began experiencing hostility from her supervisor and co-workers, leading to a transfer and, eventually, her firing when she reported to the supervisors on her new shift that she had previously been sexually harassed and the department hadn’t effectively dealt with her harasser.

Ron Hunt, assistant Wilson County manager, said the county wouldn’t have a comment because the situation involves both a legal and a personnel matter.

Federal authorities contend the county’s actions violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which not only prohibits employer discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, but also retaliation against employees for engaging in activities protected by the law, such as complaining about discrimination, the news release said.

Riddle filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose Charlotte office made a reasonable cause finding. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charge to the Justice Department, according to the news release.

The lawsuit seeks to require the emergency communications unit to develop and implement policies that would prevent retaliation. It also seeks compensation for Riddle for damages she sustained from the alleged retaliation.

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