Madison County Sheriff’s Office deputy files sexual harassment lawsuit against Sheriff, county

Madison County Sheriff's Office

HUNTSVILLE,  Ala. – Another sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit has been filed by a Madison County Sheriff’s Office employee against Sheriff Blake Dorning, county employees and the Madison County Commission.

This is the fifth such sexual harassment lawsuit filed in the last 15 months; one has been dismissed and the others are ongoing.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 11 by deputy Sonya Massey and she alleges she was physically assaulted in a sexual manner by her supervisor in July 2015. The lawsuit says Massey told a Sheriff’s Office dispatcher about the assault but she did not report it. The supervisor is not named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges she didn’t complain about the alleged assault because she believed it would be futile to complain and could damage her career.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

Massey’s attorney Kerri Riley described the purpose of the lawsuit to WHNT News 19.

“Ms. Massey is demanding that female deputies and employees of the Madison County Sheriff who report sexual harassment be heard with respect, and that their claims be investigated with respect,” Riley said. “In her lawsuit, Ms. Massey is asking the Court to step in and change a long-standing practice in the Sheriff’s Office of threatening discipline, job loss or criminal prosecution for reporting sexual harassment or sexual assault.

WHNT News 19 has also reached out to the Madison County attorney and the Sheriff’s Office, but has not yet received a response to our request for comment.

The new lawsuit appears to have been spurred by actions by the Sheriff’s Office in response to lawsuits filed against it in December 2017 and February 2018.

The lawsuits filed by investigator Marina Garcia and former sheriff’s office employee Erica Cagle refer to a sheriff’s office employee who sexually assaulted a co-worker but was not fired, according to Massey’s lawsuit.

Her lawsuit says that after the February 2018 lawsuit by Cagle was filed, Massey was contacted by her supervisors demanding to know about the assault that she alleged Sgt. Gary Cross committed. The lawsuit says she then wrote up a statement supporting the allegations in the prior lawsuits. The lawsuit contends that after she provided the statement she was subjected to cruel gossip and called a liar.

Massey said she was asked to speak to the Sheriff’s Office internal affairs in March. The lawsuit describes the encounter this way:

“Massey was harshly interrogated, accused of lying, bullied, and verbally abused. She was questioned in an abusively hostile manner about why she did not report the assault by Sgt. Cross. She was threatened with discipline and job loss. She was told she was not cooperating, which is a disciplinary offense, because her lawyer directed the interrogator to her written statement on some occasions, in an effort to protect her from further trauma and abuse.”

The lawsuit claims she also talked to Madison County Personnel Director Jermie Howell in April. The lawsuit claims he expressed disbelief about the allegation against Cross, who he said he’d known for years, and also stated if “this was a pattern, we need to look at it.”

The lawsuit alleges she heard nothing more from Howell about her complaint.

Massey’s lawsuit also contains the statement she wrote for the Sheriff’s Office about the alleged encounter. In it, she claims while on duty one night, Cross grabbed her, turned her around, held her tight against her will and tried to kiss her. She wrote that she finally succeeded in pushing him away.

The lawsuit asks for damages and for officers and supervisors to undergo further training on harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

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