Judge sends harsh warning to Butler County

Thursday, September 6, 2001

P A former correctional officer in the Butler County Sherifff's Department showed that the behavior of her superiors and co-workers was wrong.

Ruling in a sexual harassment suit, a federal judge put the Butler County Sheriff's Department on notice that public officials and their employees had best watch what they say and do around the people they work with.

U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry awarded a former correctional officer at the Butler County Jail in Poplar Bluff, Mo., $1,000 in damages and called the work environment at the jail "sexually hostile."

The judge said evidence proved that the former officer, Deborah Dugger, was subjected to a pattern of profane language and sexual propositioning and innuendo, and although Dugger complained, no corrective action was taken.

The judge dismissed the sheriff and others who were named individually in Dugger's suit but harshly criticized them, saying all levels of supervision condoned and participated in the behavior.

Judge Perry said they should be ashamed of their conduct, yet they showed no remorse.

Dugger had sought $6,000, which the judge said she probably would have awarded had she been able to impose punitive damages. Because the ruling was against Butler County government, no punitive damages could be given.

The fact that Dugger convinced the judge she was wronged without even the services of an attorney tells a lot about what must have been going on at the jail.

The judge did not take the offending behavior lightly, and the sheriff's department would be wise to heed her message.

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