Sexual discrimination complaints have been filed by three women against the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department, citing job discrimination based on gender.
In the discrimination complaints, filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the female jailers contend they were systematically passed over for promotion, given sole responsibility for "secretarial duties" not required of male co-workers and worked in a pervasive and ongoing hostile environment based on sexual harassment.
The initial complaints were filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in June. The department issued a subpoena to Crow Wing County Sheriff Dick Ross to appear before the human rights department on July 16.
Last week Ross and County Attorney Don Ryan both denied that an investigation was taking place in regard to the jail or jail administrator. Ryan said he was asked about an attorney general's investigation of the jail administrator, but it did not ring a bell about the human rights investigation or he said this week he would have confirmed it at that time.
Thursday Ross confirmed he was subpoenaed by the human rights department, but would not comment on the accusations against the sheriff's department while the case was active. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has up to a year to investigate a complaint.
Other Crow Wing County officials said the situation was not serious and was being dealt with through a reorganization of the sheriff's department currently in process. County Administrator Peter Herlofsky Jr. said he believes many of the concerns with the department will be taken care of within six months when a reorganized jail administrator's position is established.
The new jail administrator, authorized by a county board vote on Aug. 14, will be a licensed peace officer at a lieutenant's rank.
"We are trying to address the issues," Herlofsky said, adding he was not minimizing concerns from female employees, although he did not think it was a major issue. "They've done the right thing in bringing them (complaints) forward."
Jeff Holman, a Minnesota Department of Human Rights communications officer, said Thursday that all data on open cases is considered non-public until the department comes up with a finding after gathering initial information. Case disposition, including dismissal or a determination of probable cause in the discrimination complaint will be public when the case investigation is concluded.
Three women, Gae Bock, Marlene Segler and Darla DeRosier, current Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department employees, filed individual charges with the human rights department.
In her complaint, Bock, a Crow Wing County correctional officer and a county employee since 1996, stated she was passed over for promotion on at least 22 occasions. After meeting qualifications, Bock stated Dan Gottsch, former chief deputy, denied her promotion based on a background check and other internal problems that he did not identify. Bock also stated in her complaint that Rod McCulley, current jail administrator, frequently refers to female jailers and inmates as "bitches" and a four-letter slang term used to describe female anatomy, as well as other derogatory terms.
Bock stated McCulley retaliated against those who complained about discrimination. In her complaint directed against Ross, Bock stated the sheriff "discriminates against female jailers, including myself, with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, and terms, conditions and privileges of employment."
Bock stated Ross "has allowed an atmosphere of sexual harassment to pervade the work place."
McCulley Thursday declined to comment on the accusations, directing all questions to Herlofsky.
Gottsch today said he denied not a promotion but a transfer to a job in the field for Bock, and disagreed with Bock's assertion that reasons for the denial weren't identified. Because she was attempting to bring a lawsuit against the sheriff's department, Gottsch said, the specific reasons were sent to Ryan and her attorney.
"I wouldn't have denied her anything unless it was performance related and specifically identified," Gottsch said. " When I was there (at the sheriff's department) we had a fair system of people growing in the department based on their work ethic and performance."
When called last week about a possible investigation into the sheriff's department by the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, both Ross and Ryan told The Dispatch they knew of no investigation of the sheriff's department or of McCulley by that office.
Thursday Ross apologized for not acknowledging the human rights investigation at that time -- opposed to an attorney general's office investigation -- and said when the issue is resolved he would be able to talk about it.
"I really feel bad that I said there was no investigation," Ross said.
Ryan said Crow Wing County has been active in trying to respond to the human rights department. The county sought a couple of extensions in order to answer the human rights department's requests for information.
Ryan said he has not taken the issue to the county board for discussion or disclosure until the investigation is concluded, adding that approach was the best for all parties involved particularly if the issue comes back as an unfounded allegation.
"I think Crow Wing County professionally and timely responded to the issues as best we can," Ryan said. "... I don't view that as a cover-up. I view that as professionally conducting the county's business."
The Otter Tail County Sheriff's department was asked to investigate the concerns raised by the women's complaints. In a written statement to the MDHR, Herlofsky stated "as noted in the investigative report there are areas of concern much like any other organization, but the investigating officer could not find sufficient evidence to substantiate the claims made in the complaint."
In her complaint, Bock stated: "Throughout my employment with (the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department), female employees and I have been subjected to continuous and ongoing discrimination. ...
"All female jailers and I are required to handle nearly all paperwork and filing responsibilities, despite the fact that male and female jailers have identical job descriptions and responsibilities. Female jailers are routinely referred to as 'secretaries,' and all jailers are told that only the female jailers are responsible for paperwork."
Concern for a potential lawsuit in the future is making the county board a bit cautious when talking about the complaints now, county officials said.
DeRosier, with the sheriff's department since 1988, and Segler, an employee since 1984, are currently working as corrections officers. In their complaints, DeRosier and Segler had similar concerns that female jailers handled nearly all paperwork, were passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified male applicants, were repeatedly denied access to supervisor positions and worked in a hostile environment, which included verbal abuse based on gender.
DeRosier stated male employees posted pornographic pictures in plain view of all employees and the sheriff "made no effort to discourage this behavior or discipline those responsible, even though it is widely known that this occurs."
Both Bock and DeRosier included references to a May 2000 posting by McCulley for positions at the jail annex that indicated only male jailers would be allowed to work there. They noted the sheriff agreed to allow them to work in the jail annex after the women complained about access to those postings, but said retaliation came in shift assignments and loss of seniority rights.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Dewey Tautges said the board is dealing with whatever "little problem" there is as a county board and were taking care of it through personnel. "It should not be a big deal," Tautges said.
Commissioners Gil Dewes and John Ferrari both said they had not heard about the sexual discrimination complaints as of Aug. 31. Commissioner Ed Larsen could not be reached for comment. Ferrari referred questions to the county's administrator.
Herlofsky said memos were recently sent out to commissioners in their regular information packets.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss, who Wednesday asked the county attorney's office to release information on the investigation, said there has been tension in the sheriff's department since Gottsch, former chief deputy, was fired by Ross on June 22.
Recently an anonymous letter circulated to Crow Wing County commissioners and department heads. The letter raised unconfirmed reports of wrongdoing in the sheriff's department and irregularities in the jail.
Sluss said he had no facts to back up allegations but if there was potential for allegations to be true an investigation would be started.
Ross saw the letter and said he called an outside agency in to investigate. Though he wouldn't comment specifically on what has been done, he said he is looking into the validity of each accusation in the anonymous letter and will correct any problems within the department.
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