Madison County Sheriff’s Office, county commission, seek dismissal of sexual harassment lawsuits

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Attorneys for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and Madison County Commission are asking that two sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits be dismissed because the pleadings either fail to meet the law, or do not specify individual liability for misconduct.

The filings were on behalf of a number of members of the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Blake Dorning, former chief deputy David Jernigan and the Madison County Commission.

The lawsuits filed by former deputy Shelby Holt and current investigator Marina Garcia allege the sheriff’s office and county commission failed to follow their own policies regarding sexual harassment.

The complaints also laid out a number of allegations related to harassment and retaliation – including alleged harassment by a supervising officer, reports of a sheriff’s office supervisor trading sex for favorable treatment and claims of multiple suggestive comments. And, they contend male sheriff's office employees did not face discipline for sexual misconduct.

But the motions to dismiss contend the claims don’t show enough detail alleging misconduct by the defendants. The responses also continue to fault the lawsuits – which they had argued were too long – for being too general in their assigning of blame.

For example, Holt alleges that after she was harassed, she personally delivered a complaint to Sheriff Dorning and alleges she was later fired after complaining.

But in Dorning’s motion to dismiss, Dorning’s attorneys say the complaint fails to make its case, even as it acknowledges Dorning both received the complaint and fired Holt.

It focuses on the fact that Holt also complains about Jernigan, other officers and the county’s failure to enforce its sexual harassment policy.

“Each count of Holt’s fourth amended complaint alleges that multiple defendants did exactly the same thing without making any effort whatsoever to differentiate among the conduct of any of the defendants,” the motion to dismiss contends.

“In other words, the complaint, in a blanketed and general manner, asserts that all defendants are liable for the same conduct, but does not actually describe what conduct each defendant engaged in with respect to the plaintiff, thereby failing to give each defendant fair notice of the reasons that they are being sued.”

The responses are similar for other defendants.

Former sheriff’s office Captain Charles Berry is alleged by Garcia to have given her office mate supervisory power over her, in exchange for sexual favors.

Garcia’s complaint alleges she told a sergeant under Berry about the problems she was facing and she alleges that Berry later told the sergeant she was being demoted.

In Berry’s response to the lawsuit, his attorneys contend Garcia’s version of events is “exceedingly sparse,” and that “… Garcia makes no allegation that Capt. Berry ordered her demotion or participated in any decision to demote her.”

Discovery in the cases is currently stayed while the judges consider the motions to dismiss.