Federal lawsuit filed against OEM director, county officials

Editor's note: Some readers may find the details included in the attached court documents graphic. The federal complaint that was filed Thursday in the United States District Court Eastern District of Arkansas Western Division is included following the story.



A federal lawsuit stemming from a sexual harassment complaint against Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management Director Shelia Bellott has been filed against Bellott after victims say actions against the county official did “not relieve the hostile work environment,” according to a federal complaint.

Two county employees — Julie Woodward and Mary Johnson — filed the complaint Thursday in the United States District Court Eastern District of Arkansas Western Division, listing Bellott, County Judge Jim Baker, County Administrator Tom Anderson and Faulkner County itself at the heart of the suit.

The initial investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Bellott ensued after four OEM employees contacted Deputy County Attorney Whitney Doolittle about inappropriate talk and incidents involving Bellott.

Doolittle and County Attorney David Hogue conducted a three-week investigation before presenting their findings to County Judge Jim Baker, who had to decide what disciplinary action to take. Baker was advised to fire Bellott but instead transferred her physical office away from the four employees and directed her not to speak with OEM employees except Chief Deputy Director Tyler Lachowsky and not to talk about anything sexual at work, a move that, according to the newly filed federal complaint, did not relieve tensions at the office.

“The arrangement … does not relieve the hostile work environment,” the complaint reads. “Defendant Bellott, with the apparent authority of Defendants Anderson and Baker, has continued to place tedious and harassing requirements on the OEM employees, including Julie and Mary. Such behavior on the part of all Defendants demonstrate[s] unwelcome harassment and unprofessional conduct, and reckless conduct from which malice may be inferred.”

According to the complaint, after the sexual harassment allegations came to light, Bellott was asked to work from home before being relocated to an office in the Old Courthouse on Locust Avenue, which is more than five miles away from the Office of Emergency Management building located on Acklin Gap Road.

Hogue spoke on behalf of Judge Baker regarding Bellott’s relocation.

“I’m speaking for Jim Baker here, not for me … The reason that he didn’t fire her and avoid this type of lawsuit, is that she is one of the most recognized people in the state as far as expertise on handling emergencies,” he said.

Bellott has served the county as OEM director for nearly 10 years.

The federal complaint details Bellott’s alleged actions that caused the OEM staff to feel “uncomfortable,” describing a May 23, 2017, incident where “Bellott entered Julie’s office that morning to tell her about her ‘date’ the night before.”

Johnson was present during the conversation, according to the complaint.

“Defendant Bellott stated to Julie and Mary that she had ‘butt dialed’ Defendant Anderson, and that he called her back and allegedly, Bellott and Anderson discussed the ‘drive of shame,’” the complaint reads. “Defendant Bellott proceeded to tell Julie that she was going to have sex with her date (using vulgar words) that coming night…”

The complaint continues to describe “vulgar” hygienic descriptions of how Bellott said she would arrive to work the day following her date.

At this point, the plaintiffs requested Bellott end the conversation, noting they felt Bellott’s descriptions of her sexual encounters were “distasteful and uncomfortable.”

The complaint states the alleged harassment continued into the next day, noting Bellott followed one of the plaintiff’s around the office after being asked to refrain from such behavior.

The plaintiffs stated they do not feel their complaints were rightfully handled.

“As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ conduct, the Plaintiffs have suffered damages including anxiety, humiliation, emotional distress and anguish, and loss of reputation,” the complaint reads.

Hogue said the county is sending the complaint to Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, a law firm that represents counties across the state.

“We are intending to file a motion to dismiss,” he said. “If [the case] goes forward, [Rainwater, Holt & Sexton] will defend the county and every party included in their official capacity.”

Media partner KATV contributed to this story.



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