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County may pay $375,500 in Deatrick settlement

Pending approval from United States Southern District Chief Judge David F. Hamilton, Harrison County has agreed to pay $375,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by two women who accused Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick of sexual harassment and later of retaliation after they filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Dispatcher Deana Decker and former dispatcher Melissa Graham will each receive more than $187,000.
‘I can say that my clients are satisfied with the settlement,’ their attorney, Charles W. Miller, said yesterday. ‘Several factors played into the total they chose to settle for. It’s our belief Mr. Deatrick will be indicted, and that trial may last a year. Then, you are looking at least one round of appeals that could take a year, so that’s at least two years down the road assuming everything started today.
‘There’s an emotional toll on my clients and their families, and they believed this was their best course of action. I believe there’s a price for peace.’
The consent decree, filed Monday, was submitted by Jay D. Adelstein, senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice; Elizabeth Knight, Deatrick’s attorney in his official capacity as sheriff; and Jeremy M. Dilts, counsel for the Harrison County Commissioners and Harrison County Council.
The decree says the commissioners, council and Deatrick ‘expressly deny any civil or criminal wrongdoing or liability or that they discriminated against Deanna Decker or Melissa Graham in violation of Title VII ‘ ‘ and ‘The parties, desiring to avoid protracted and unnecessary litigation, also accept this Consent Decree as final on the issues ‘ ‘
Title VII, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin or religion. It also prohibits retaliation against an employee who opposes an unlawful employment practice, or because the employee has made a charge or participated in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under the Civil Rights Act.
In addition to the settlement, to be paid by check and photocopies of the checks sent to Adelstein within 21 days of payment to Decker and Graham, all employees of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department are to take part in an EEO seminar that shall be no less than two hours of instruction and cover facts of the decree, sex discrimination, federal and state laws to the sheriff and sheriff’s department rules and regulations regarding sex discrimination and retaliation, responsibilities of the sheriff and supervisors in preventing sex discrimination and how and to whom an individual may file a complaint concerning sex discrimination and/or retaliation.
An EEO trainer will be on hand at the seminars. The first seminar is to be conducted within three months of the date of the decree, then two additional seminars are to be held, in September 2010 and May 2011. A registry of attendance for each seminar is to be taken and provided to the U.S. Department of Justice together with a list of all personnel employed by the sheriff’s department.
The settlement is separate from a criminal investigation by Nancy Jacobs, a special prosecutor assigned to the case.
On June 11, 2008 ‘ a month after filing their initial complaint with the EEOC ‘ Miller filed a suit on behalf of his clients, with the women seeking judgment ‘in an amount sufficient to fully compensate the plaintiffs for their respective damages,’ as well as punitive damages, legal fees and a trial by jury. The suit sought $6.25 million in damages for each woman if the suit went to trial; and that they would settle for $2.5 million for Decker and $2 million for Graham.
The suit named Deatrick, current county commissioners James E. Goldman and Terry Miller and former county commissioners J.R. Eckart and Jim Heitkemper as defendants.
The suit said Goldman, Eckart, Miller and Heitkemper were named because, in their official capacity, they failed to properly maintain the Harrison County Jail in a safe condition for employees due to their ‘respective refusal to supervise and/or control the conduct and actions of Deatrick’ and other department employees.
The county paid $55,000 in 2007 to settle four other civil-rights lawsuits filed by former sheriff’s department employees. The payment was in the form of a deductible, Auditor Pat Wolfe said.

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