Deputy auditors will not file harassment lawsuit

Monday, August 4, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com David Ludwig's desk in the county auditor's office in Jackson was empty on Friday. Ludwig has returned to work today after being out of the office since April 17.

Cape Girardeau County's deputy auditors are in a position to file a lawsuit against their employer.

But the women, Virgie Koeppel and Beth Biri, say they won't file one.

During the Cape Girardeau County Commission meeting Monday morning Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle and a consulting attorney, Diane Howard -- considered a specialist in sexual harassment cases -- told commissioners that the women could have a valid complaint.

Howard said the fact that two complaints had been filed over the course of a year against the deputies' boss, County Auditor David Ludwig, and that he'd acknowledged the behavior, put the county in a position of liability.

"We have all the liability and none of the authority," said Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, referring to the fact that the commission had no legal recourse for disciplining another county official. Howard affirmed his statement, saying the county is responsible for providing a safe and comfortable environment for the employees.

Swingle described the offense as being "between a zero and 1" on a 10-point scale.

Ludwig was scheduled to return to the office Monday afternoon. Internet access has been removed from his county computer -- the complaints alleged he'd used it to download and print images of scantily clad women, including former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson.

Jones said after the meeting that Ludwig will have a "tough row to hoe" as he returns to his office in the county administration building, which he shares with the two deputies.

"He's going to have a rough reception throughout the building and not just his office," Jones said this morning of Ludwig's return. "He's just going to have to deal with that. That's his problem."

Ludwig was absent for 76 work days after being privately confronted for a second time on April 17 for violating the county's computer-use policy.

As the incident came to light, county officials also disclosed that Ludwig had not been doing his job. That will change as he resumes office hours beginning on a part-time basis, Jones said. The county's information technology director, Eric McGowen, will train Ludwig on the basics of software installed on his computer in 2006; the deputy auditors said they are expected to assist with specific auditing questions.

Ludwig was escorted back to his office by Jones this afternoon. The arrangement of the office has been changed so Koeppel -- who filed two complaints with the county and spoken publicly of her discomfort over Ludwig's Internet office habits -- doesn't have to look directly at Ludwig while she works. Her computer screen is positioned so it partially blocks the line of sight between her and her boss.

"I'm going to lean on God and I'm going to do my best and I hope God will do the rest of it," said Koeppel.

For more on this story check back later at seMissourian.com or read Tuesday's print edition.

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