Washtenaw County sheriff's deputy faced sexual harassment and retaliation, lawsuit alleges
A former Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging she was sexually harassed at work and fired after she requested more time off to receive counseling.
Former Deputy Donna Vermette, who was assigned to the corrections division, is suing the county, seeking an unspecified amount of money.
The 12-year veteran, who transported inmates, claims in her lawsuit that she was sexually harassed by Deputy Douglas Flint.
He attempted to kiss her, asked her to hold his private part and questioned whether she “would sleep with him if he were not married,” the suit says.
Vermette says in the lawsuit that when she refused Flint’s sexual advances, he became angry and said vulgar things to her and made false statements about her.
Co-workers, who were aware of the harassment, told Vermette “just sleep with him and he will leave you alone,” according to the suit.
Vermette also alleges in the lawsuit that her immediate supervisor, Sgt. Kurt Schiapacasse, retaliated against her. The suit further claims deputies Hazelton and Mulholland sexually harassed Vermette, but doesn’t provide specifics.
Vermette experienced “anxiety, physical illness, inability to sleep, crying and depression” as a result of the harassment, which occurred over several years, the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, Vermette was ordered by her psychiatrist in January 2008 to stop working and requested a continuation of her leave Dec. 1, 2008.
Former Sheriff Dan Minzey and former Undersheriff Herb Mahony denied the request and advised her to return to work by Dec. 16 or be terminated, the suit claims.
Even though Vermette’s doctor provided a note clearing her to return in January, she was fired, the suit says.
Vermette could not be reached for comment today. Her attorney, Jim Fett, said she remains unemployed.
“Overall, she’s just disappointed that a law enforcement agency would not respect the law,” he said.
The county is disputing many of the allegations, including claims it took the sheriff’s department seven months to interview Vermette about her initial verbal complaint in November 2007, an August court filing shows.
The county’s attorney, Thomas Wurst, declined to comment today.
At least one deputy has been disciplined. Deputy Hazelton was disciplined for making improper communication toward Vermette in December 2005 and January 2006, documents say.
In addition, sexual harassment training was planned for the entire transport division, including Vermette, according to a letter to her from sheriff’s Lt. Brian Filipiak.
The sheriff’s department did not make the deputies named in the suit available for comment Tuesday.
Vermette was given the right to sue after more than 180 days elapsed after she filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a suit was not filed on her behalf.
She wrote in that complaint that the harassment made it difficult for her to do her job.
“I was very nervous, humiliated, embarrassed and began to ‘look over my shoulder,'” she wrote. “It became hard to concentrate on my job. I’m not a sissy but it affected my self-esteem. It affected me mentally and I often became physically sick at work. I couldn’t sleep and would lie awake crying.”
Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2527.