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Female officer sues city for #036;1 million

A female Ironton police officer filed a million dollar lawsuit in federal court this week claiming sexual harassment and gender discrimination produced a hostile work environment that interferred with her job.

Friday, October 15, 1999

A female Ironton police officer filed a million dollar lawsuit in federal court this week claiming sexual harassment and gender discrimination produced a hostile work environment that interferred with her job.

IPD officer Beth Rist said the lawsuit is a last-ditch effort to right the alleged wrongs against her and to make the working environment acceptable not only to her, but to other female officers who might come along.

"I went through all the appropriate channels to get it resolved, all the way through the city government, but no one would listen," Ms. Rist said in a telephone interview Thursday. "So, I had no choice."

The lawsuit, which claims more than 40 incidents ranging from verbal abuse and vandalism of Ms. Rist’s equipment to an incident in which a higher-ranking officer allegedly struck her, was filed in Federal District Court of Southern Ohio, Western Division, in Cincinnati, said Charley Hess, co-counsel in the case. The lawsuit also claims Ms. Rist was denied rank previously awarded to her and was refused assistance by fellow officers.

"There are probably nine or 10 claims, but they all go back to (sexual harassment and gender discrimination)," Hess said.

Among others, the complaint names the City of Ironton, the Ironton Police Department, Chief Rodney McFarland, Capt. William Garland, Mayor Bob Cleary, Capt. Jerry Leach and Grover Carter.

News of the lawsuit surprised city officials, who, after meeting with Ms. Rist and her attorneys earlier this year, said they thought the issues were being resolved.

"The first time the issue was brought to me as mayor, I acted immediately," Cleary said. "The city hired an outside source to investigate both sides of the allegations and I thought that the issues were resolved, so it comes as a real surprise by way of the media that the City of Ironton is being sued."

The lawsuit is the final phase of months of negotiations and seeking the proper channels legally, Hess said.

"Beth’s been a client of mine since we’ve gone through the Ohio Civil Rights Commission process, which is required before any lawsuit of this nature is filed," he said. "They administer the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints, and you must go through this process."

In addition to earlier complaints, Hess said he and Ms. Rist met with Cleary and city attorneys before filing the suit.

"We attempted to work it out beforehand," he said.

This is not the first step in the process, but Ironton City Council Chairman Jesse Roberts said he believes that filing a lawsuit of this nature at this time might not be coincidental.

"The timing is interesting," Roberts said. "And I think it’s interesting that the news media and everyone else had the news before the mayor and city council."

Chances are, however, that the parties named in the lawsuit will not receive official word for more than 20 days, Hess said, explaining that the paperwork was mailed last week and the process will continue from there.

"Next, the defendants must be served, and that is actually something that happens through the attorney’s office once the courts return the information to us," he said. "After everyone is served, it is commenced, but it will take 20-30 days before all that occurs."

Although the total claims on the suit add up to $17.6 million, even if Ms. Rist were to win all parts of the court battle, the city would not pay that amount, Hess said.

"If you have 10 complaints and you put a dollar on each of them, together they might add up to $10, but that’s not the way the court works. You are only awarded once," Hess explained. "It’s a $1 million lawsuit; that is what we have alleged."

In the meantime, Ms. Rist will keep her job as an IPD officer and bicycle patrol officer, which is what she said the lawsuit is about.

"All I wanted to do was be a cop," she said.