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Former Baxter County Jailer Tabitha King is pushing back against an attempt by Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery and former Baxter County Sergeant Steven Goode to end her wrongful termination/sexual harassment suit against them without a trial by jury.
Both Montgomery and Goode filed for a summary judgment in court at the end of October after presenting a flurry of legal documents and depositions that not only poked holes in King’s claims against them, but in their own narratives as well.
Under the law, a summary judgment can be requested by one party in a pre-trial motion if they are able to show that there is no genuine dispute to any material facts and if the party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
But while King, Montgomery and Goode do agree on some facts, as outlined in a court filing last week before Thanksgiving, the former jailer is still holding strong to her claims of wrongful termination, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.
“The Plaintiff was clearly a member of a protected class, was undisputedly qualified for the position, and suffered adverse employment actions in that terms and conditions of her employment were impacted due to sex (with significant evidence in the record that she was subjected to inappropriate advances, physical sexual assault, demeaning treatment as a female expected to fulfill the desires of her supervisor, and eventually termination following reports of the same).
The discriminatory treatment of her lasted for over a year, even following reporting the incident to several others, to the point where Sheriff Montgomery had a “one-sided conversation” with Goode for the sending of photographs to stop (but not referencing the other treatment as he failed to even speak with the Plaintiff about what was happening – deliberately turning a blind eye to her needs or interests).”
Dispute over Title VII Claim
One of the major disputes between King and the county revolves around the timing of her Title VII Claim and EEOC claim.
While not initially in dispute, attorneys for Montgomery, Goode and Baxter County brought forth a statute of limitations defense when seeking a summary judgment from Judge Mark E. Ford in November.
According to the summary judgment request, King failed to file her actions against the defendants within 90 days as legally required. Yet, King’s attorneys argue Montgomery and the county have brought forth no evidence that King’s claim of receiving a notice of the right to sue in the mail on Sept. 16, 2020, was incorrect or untrue.
Instead, Montgomery and the county have turned to the issue date on the notice, Sept. 2, 2020, officially starting the countdown for the 90 limit, even though King did not receive the notice by mail until the 16th.
According to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1), the individual must file within 90 days of “receipt of the right-to-sue notice.”
Montgomery and the county also claim that King was notified of her right to email well before the notice was sent to her home address. While EEOC filings and notifications are now allowed to be sent digitally under federal law, the regulations surrounding the digital notices were not in effect until Nov. 16, 2020. Well after King was notified by mail on Sept. 16.
The regulation changes weren’t adopted until Oct. 15, 2020. Prior to these changes, the law only recognized notices via mail. King’s attorneys argue that the court cannot retroactively hold her changes in the law that occurred after she was notified.
King also argues that Montgomery and the county’s claim that she did not file her EEOC complaint within 180 days of discriminatory treatment is moot due to her being sexually harassed up until her termination at the county jailhouse.
If a summary judgment is given, King asks that the court grant the judgment without prejudice, thereby allowing her to refile her case against Montgomery and the county.
“Contrary to the Defendants’ claim that ‘All of the allegations that form the basis of the Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim (sexual assault, sexual texts, and sexual touching) occurred prior to December 30, 2020, the Defendant wholly ignore the deposition exchange that: ‘Anytime there was not a camera present, he would grab my rear, he would put his hands on me, shove me against the wall, try to kiss me.· Places like the stairwell of the tower of the jail.’ Ex. C. at 133.”
A failure to protect his employee
The crux of King’s argument for a trial by jury centers on her not only being a qualified jailer and member of a protected class, but that Montgomery failed to act to protect her from harassment by Goode despite hearing rumors of inappropriate conduct occurring between the former Sergeant and King.
And Montgomery did have some idea of what was occurring in 2019 and 2020. As reported earlier by the Observer, during a deposition in Oct., Montgomery revealed that he and Goode met “in the parking lot out of Sheriff’s Office” to discuss photos being sent back and forth between the two.
According to his testimony, after getting into the vehicle with Goode, the Sheriff told Goode in a “one-sided conversation” that “I’ve heard rumor that you and Tabitha King are sending photos back and forth between the two of you. If it’s not true, then you need to be more careful; if it is true, it better stop now.”
Montgomery then claimed that he made no attempt to confirm whether or not the rumors were true. The Baxter County Sheriff also stated that he did not hear any complaints about sexual harassment until King had been terminated.
Newly obtained pages from Goode’s deposition reveal that the former Sergeant also admitted to the private meeting with Montgomery. While Montgomery claims that he did not know about complaints of sexual harassment in the lead-up to King’s termination, official documentation shows that both Captain and Lieutenant Lewis had direct knowledge of King’s complaints of harassment by Goode.
In her rebuttal to Montgomery’s request for a summary judgment, King states “Such a conversation cannot be honestly considered ‘remedial action’ as while the photos did stop, the harassment, groping, and objectification of the Plaintiff continued without any reprisal from the County. It is even more curious that when the County did ‘confirm’ that Goode had sent nude photos of himself to her, he was terminated.”
King further argues that “had Montgomery merely asked him if the ‘rumors’ were true, the harassment could have been truly remedied when it was occurring. Instead, Goode received a promotion shortly after the ‘talking to’ and used that authority to continue to harass and demean the Plaintiff and subject her to unwanted advances.”
It should be noted that the relationship between Goode and King appears to be more than simple harassment from a supervisor to an employee, with King admitting to sending at least one provocative photo to Goode. One of the few texts preserved between the two also shows them potentially discussing the possibility of having a threesome.
Documentation also shows that both Goode and King were unfaithful to their spouses on multiple occasions, with Goode perusing several women at the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office while employed. Goode admitted to sending at least four women, including King, photos of himself through text messages.
His termination prompted the Sheriff’s Office to send out a survey to its employees asking if they had received any inappropriate photos from Goode.
In 2021, well after her termination, King entered into a sexual relationship with Ethan Raymond, an employee with the BCSO. The relationship prompted a sit-down meeting with Montgomery that ultimately resulted in Raymond writing a bizarre apology letter asking the Sheriff to keep his job.
When asked under oath if Montgomery ever threatened Raymond for entering into a private relationship with King, the Sheriff said he did not.
Documentation also shows that King had shown pornography to others at work, had made sexually charged statements while on the clock, and had received a sexual harassment complaint from a fellow female employee during her tenure at the jailhouse.
The former jailer also appears to have lied about having a miscarriage in 2020. While signed affidavits from healthcare providers show that King was never pregnant, she continues to maintain that she believed she was pregnant at the time. King points to a sealed deposition from her therapist as evidence of what she believed at the time in court.
Ultimately, King argues that “the jury may easily see that the termination, within a week of complaint to Captain Lewis (who knew of and was involved in her termination and had knowledge of the prior complaints and longstanding issues) was a response to silence the complaining party – one who was complaining against a person know to ‘creep out’ others by his actions, who was married/dating a secretary in the Sheriff’s Office.”
A potential visit to the Arkansas Supreme Court
In a surprising twist, King’s attorneys have stated that her case is “ripe for determination or certification to the Arkansas Supreme Court” following their ruling in Benton School District et al v. Greer.
Benton School District v. Greer addressed whether tort immunity applied to an Arkansas Civil Rights Act claim for violation of the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights under Arkansas law. No claims of that nature exist in King’s case.
In their request for summary judgment, Montgomery and Baxter County argued that Benton School District applies to all Arkansas Civil Rights Act claims, including those under Sec. 107, which involves intentional discrimination.
King’s attorneys argue that the court analyzed the immunity under the Tort immunity statute, which has never been held to apply to ACRA Discrimination claims. The state’s supreme court has “consistently held that section 21-9-3001 provides municipal employees with immunity from civil liability for negligent acts, but not for intentional acts.
So, while a violation of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act under Sec. 105(a) may be subject to immunity to the extent insurance is not maintained, the unprecedented question arises whether Benton School District extends to intentional discrimination under Sec. 107 of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.
Baxter County argues that it does not have insurance to cover lawsuits, but King disputes that claim due to the county’s clear coverage of civil rights liability through the Association of Arkansas Counties Risk Management Fund.
Under the fund, the county is covered for $350,000 per occurrence, per fund year. Baxter County attributes $31,135 of taxpayer money to the fund every year.
Even with the coverage in place, King’s attorneys argue that the coverage cap may force a State Supreme Court opinion if a jury finds that the coverage is less than the damages potentially done to King.
This continues to be a developing story.