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Baxter County Sheriff, former sergeant file response to lawsuit by former jailer

The federal court case filed by Tabatha L. King against Baxter County and the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department has seen movement after Baxter County, Sheriff John Montgomery, and former Sergeant Steven Goode filed an answer to King’s suit on Friday.

King, a former jailer and reserve deputy with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department, alleged she was wrongfully terminated after notifying her superiors that she was sexually harassed by a member of the Sheriff’s Office.

The defendants in the case are Baxter County, the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery, and Steven Goode, a former Sergeant with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department.

Initial lawsuit

Filed on December 15 of the last year, King’s complaint details a series of events that led to her eventual termination from the department.

King, who began to work for the Sheriff’s department in 2018, alleges that former Sergeant Steven Goode, in Spring 2019, forced King down on her knees and sexually assaulted her while moving inmate mattresses to a storage unit.

King claims to have pushed Goode off of her and alleges that Goode told her “she had better keep her mouth shut, or there would be consequences through retaliation.”

In her complaint, King further alleges that Goode began to send her pictures of his penis in 2019. Those pictures were allegedly documented and reported to Dawn Dunford, head dispatcher for the department, who allegedly stated she would report the photos to Lieutenant Brad Lewis.

King also claims that Goode sent other female employees unsolicited pictures of his penis and that his nickname within the department was “Corporal Dick Pic.” King alleges that Goode’s actions were permitted and condoned by the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff John Montgomery.

In the court filing, King claims to have requested to be put on a different rotation but was denied. In March 2021, over a full year after her initial complaints, King alleges that Goode “wrote in King’s yearly evaluation that she was insubordinate with no cause given. King’s badge and gun privileges were revoked with the reason given as the fact that she was on anxiety medication.”

She then alleges that “these events were retaliation by Goode due to King’s reports of sexual harassment.”

Per the court filing, on April 15, 2021, King is stated to have reported to Captain Lewis “that Sgt. Goode had sexually assaulted and sexually harassed her and retaliated against her in an evaluation.”

The filing states that King was terminated on or about April 23, 2021.

King also alleges that “when King met with Sheriff Montgomery, he stated he knew of King’s complaint regarding the evaluation Sgt. Goode prepared. When King pressed Sheriff Montgomery about the sexual assault complaint, he waved his arms, exclaiming, ‘No, we will not discuss this.’”

King further alleges that “Defendants were negligent in failing to adequately train their management, supervisors, and other personnel regarding discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”

EEOC Complaint

An investigator with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated King’s termination and, in a letter to King, wrote, “Investigation revealed your evaluation was not remarkably unfavorable, and while you had opportunity to rebut the evaluation under Respondent policy, you did not. You were not suspended, but rather your access to weapons was temporarily removed due to safety concerns by the employer. You were discharged following an altercation with a co-worker in which your official statement was inconsistent with the evidence. There is insufficient evidence establishing a causal nexus between your sex, disability, your alleged 2019 complaints, and any adverse employment action. Based upon the evidence available, EEOC is unable to conclude that there was a violation under the laws enforced by EEOC.”

The EEOC issued the following determination: “The EEOC will not proceed further with its investigation and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute. This does not mean the claims have no merit. This determination does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. The EEOC makes no finding as to the merits of any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”

Friday’s answer

Friday’s answer, filed by an attorney representing the Defendants, states that Plaintiff timely filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but Defendants deny the remaining allegations, stating that King failed to bring her claims under Title VII within 90 days of receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.

The right-to-sue letter from the EEOC that King received was dated Sept. 2, 2021. King’s lawsuit was filed on Dec. 15, 2021, 104 days after the receipt of the letter.

The Defendants also deny King’s claim that former Sergeant Goode sexually assaulted King in 2019 while moving inmate mattresses to a storage unit. They further claim that they lack sufficient information to admit or deny the allegation that in August 2019, Goode began to send the Plaintiff pictures of his penis and that the Plaintiff documented these photos.

Defendants admit that King spoke with Dawn Dunford about the alleged photos but deny that Dunford stated that she would report the photos to Lieutenant Brad Lewis.

Defendants also deny that Goode’s nickname within the Sheriff’s Department was “Corporal Dick Pic.”

On or about April 15, 2021, Defendants admit that King discussed with Captain Lewis that she was unhappy with her evaluation as she did not have a section where she could add a comment or respond to the evaluation.

Defendants affirmatively state that Captain Lewis at that time provided King with an opportunity to add comments and responses to the evaluation.

In the filing, Defendants also admit that King was terminated on or about April 23, 2021, and admit that Sheriff Montgomery knew of King’s discussion with Captain Lewis, as described in the previous two paragraphs.

Defendants further admit that Sheriff Montgomery stated, “No, we will not discuss this,” in reference to King talking about filing a lawsuit.

The answer concludes with thirty-three points of defenses, and a motion to dismiss King’s lawsuit was also filed alongside Friday’s answer to her suit.

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