Sheriff, County Named In Harassment Lawsuits

Mills County and Mills County Sheriff Eugene Goos have been named in a pair of civil lawsuits - one filed by an employee at the Mills County Attorney’s Office and another by a former deputy sheriff.

In a petition filed in Mills County District Court in March, Lisa York, an administrative assistant at the county attorney’s office, alleges she’s been “subjected to sexual harassment” and a “sexually hostile work environment by Goos” while Mills County officials have failed to take action to address her concerns.

York began working at the county attorney’s office in 2014 after spending 17 years as a dispatcher in the Mills County Communications Center. York’s job requires her to have interaction with law enforcement officers, including Goos, on a regular basis.

The petition lists multiple instances when Goos allegedly made lewd, sexually-suggestive or humiliating comments towards York in the presence of other individuals, even after she had a filed a written complaint in 2017 about the sheriff and the way he talks to female employees. York alleges that Goos became angry after learning of the complaint and continued to make “inappropriate comments” and exhibit  “aggressive behavior” hat created a “culture of pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace.”

The petition in the second lawsuit was filed earlier this month by former deputy Denise Jens. Defendants named in the lawsuit are Goos, Chief Deputy Kim Clark, the Mills County Sheriff’s Office and Mills County.

Jens was employed as a Mills County deputy for over 20 years before resigning in November. Jens alleges in the petition that she was a victim of harassment, retaliation, disability discrimination and sexual discrimination, dating as far back as 2003 when she said Goos made inappropriate and sexually-suggestive comments to her and about her to other employees while both were working as deputies.  

More recently, Jens alleges Goos began retaliating against her after she reported to Sgt. Evan York, a fellow deputy, in September 2018 that she believed Goos smelled like alcohol while on duty. The petition states that Jens had a “good-faith reasonable belief that Goos was intoxicated at work” and her report to Sgt. York was an action protected by Iowa’s whistleblower law. An investigation by a Des Moines-based legal firm later determined Jens was mistaken and Goos had not consumed alcohol before or during work, the petition acknowledges.

Jens alleges that after her report was made to Sgt. York, she became the subject of retaliation by Goos and Clark and suspended without pay for five days. Jens said a letter she received from Clark claimed Jens had violated department policy for failing to show up for work one day and by sending a text notification to let the office know she was sick and unable to work on another occasion.

In the petition, Jens said she appealed her suspension to the Mills County Civil Service Commission and had her penalty reduced to three days because the commission determined the sheriff’s office absence policy was “ambiguous and confusing” and text message absence notification had been an accepted practice at the office. Jens’ petition also claims that three male officers failed to report for work without notification, but were not disciplined by Goos or Clark.
Jens contends the retaliation and harassment continued into 2019 when she was accused of violating department policies and standard operating procedures on multiple occasions. In June 2019, Jens said she notified the Mills County Board of Supervisors of the “continued harassment.”

The petition states that Jens suffers from migraine headaches and anxiety and her conditions were “exacerbated by the harassing behavior of the defendants and greatly impacted her ability to perform her duties at work.”

In 2018, the petition states, Jens injured her Achilles tendon during firearms qualification. She alleges when she returned to work, Clark instructed her to change out of the shorts she was wearing to accomodate her cast. In order to comply with the request, Jens said she had to remove the cast against her doctor’s orders. She also alleges receiving emails threatening her insubordination while she was on sick leave and that Goos and Clark disclosed her medical information to other county employees.

The petition states that in September 2019, Jens “exhausted her administrative remedies by filing a discrimination complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). In February, Jens received a “Right To Sue” letter from the ICRC, the petition states.

The plaintiffs in both cases have requested jury trials and are asking for a declaration from the court that the actions of the defendants are in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and to permanently prohibit the defendants from engaging in the alleged harassing and discriminatory behavior. They are also seeking monetary damages and legal fees.

Goos declined to discuss the allegations made in the lawsuits when contacted by The Opinion-Tribune, deferring to Council Bluffs attorney Kristopher Madsen, who is representing all defendants in the two cases, including Mills County.
Madsen said he is unable to discuss specific claims made in the petitions, but said he’s confident Goos, Clark, the sheriff’s office and Mills County will be cleared.

“We vehemently deny the allegations contained in each of the petitions that were filed and look forward to successfully defending them in court,” Madsen said.

Madsen said it’s possible the two cases could go to trial at a venue outside of Mills County and because of COVID-19-related delays and cancellations in the courts system, the cases could linger into 2021. Madsen acknowledged it isn’t an ideal scenario for Goos, who is up for re-election in 2020.

“Unfortunately, we’re in challenging times now. We’ve had orders suspending trials through most of the summer. Then, even if that hadn’t occurred, these cases were all just filed within the last few weeks,” Madsen said. “Even in a best scenario, we’re probably not going to get a trial date until late 2020 or even early 2021, which is unfortunate from Sheriff Goos’ standpoint and the county because we look forward to defending these claims.”

 

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