Settlement in Sexual Harassment Suit Costs Fulton $647K

Settlement in Sexual Harassment Suit Costs Fulton $647K File photo Three women who accused Fulton County Attorney R. David Ware of sexual harassment will split a $100,000 payout.

Fulton County has paid nearly $650,000 to settle a federal sexual harassment suit brought by three women against County Attorney R. David Ware, with the county’s outside counsel from Greenberg Traurig collecting the bulk of the money, $422,093.

The three plaintiffs—a lawyer, a paralegal and an administrative staffer no longer working for the county—will share a $100,000 payout, and their attorneys will be paid $125,000. The figures come from an Open Records Act request.

The total cost of the litigation: $647,093.

Under the terms, neither Ware nor the plaintiffs are permitted to discuss the case, according to a letter from Greenberg Traurig attorney Janna Nugent, who handled the county’s side of the litigation with fellow shareholders Ernest Greer and Mark Trigg.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Buckley & Klein partners Edward Buckley, Cheryl Legare and Steven Wolfe, also said they could not discuss the settlement.

The case began with the November 2012 filing of a suit by three former Fulton County Law Department employees: Dionne Dixon, a paralegal who began working in the office in 2008; Tonya Fortune, who was hired as an administrative coordinator and executive assistant to Ware in 2009; and Wanda Dallas, a staff attorney who also signed on with department in 2009.

Dallas, who is now Clayton County’s chief magistrate, had been an assistant district attorney and community prosecutor in Fulton County prior to joining Ware’s staff.

The complaint named Fulton County and Ware in his individual capacity as defendants, and asserted one count of sexual harassment by creating a sexually hostile workplace in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.

According to the complaint and other filings, the plaintiffs said Ware pressured all three women to have sex with him and made suggestive remarks about their clothing and sex lives. Dixon said her boss had suggested, on several occasions, that “he and she could have sex on the couch in his office.” In December 2011, one day after Dixon returned to work after a four-month medical leave, Ware terminated her.

Fortune alleged that Ware had, on multiple occasions, told her that “she needed someone to take care of her and that her fiancé was not capable of doing that,” and that she was a “five-star chick,” a “reference to a rap song with derogatory sexual lyrics about women.”

In April 2010, the complaint said, Fortune reported Ware’s unwanted sexual overtures to an official with the county’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and said she wanted to discuss filing a harassment claim. The official, it said, “dissuaded Fortune from making a formal complaint, telling her that filing a complaint against Ware would be like ‘David and Goliath.’”

“The county took no investigative or remedial action,” it said.

In September 2011 Fortune returned from a medical leave for surgery with a doctor’s orders to work no more than five hours a day, but Ware “required Fortune to work six or more hours a day to keep up with her workload.”

In December 2011, she resigned.

Dallas claimed that Ware repeatedly told her about other men who were interested in her, and that he was as well. “Despite Dallas’s efforts to avoid him, Ware repeatedly made suggestive or promiscuous comments about Dallas’s physical appearance” and “solicited her for sex or a physical relationship on several occasions,” the complaint said.

After one such episode, it said, Dallas told her supervising attorney and another lawyer “that Ware had been making sexual remarks to her for months” and that she was “very uncomfortable.”

“To Dallas’s knowledge, however, no investigative or remedial action was taken,” it said.

In December 2010, Dallas left the office to take a job with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department.

Shortly after the suit was filed, the county moved to have it dismissed for failure to state a claim under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It argued that—accepting the claims as true, as is required for the filing of such a motion—none of the plaintiffs could show she had suffered any “tangible employment action” as a result of rebuffing Ware’s overtures.

“This is a case of alleged sexual harassment where (1) no plaintiff alleges that she was physically touched, threatened or intimated; (2) no plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to vulgar language; (3) no plaintiff contends that the alleged harassment interfered with her ability to perform her job duties; (4) two of the three plaintiffs did not suffer any tangible employment action, and the other was terminated more than four months after any alleged sexual harassment had ceased; (5) and no plaintiff, at any time during her employment, exercised her known rights to file a written complaint pursuant to the county’s grievance process,” wrote the defense lawyers.

In a 33-page report and recommendation issued in May 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge Janet King said the case should proceed. Dixon, she wrote, “has alleged facts sufficient to allow an inference of a causal link between Ware’s sexually harassing behavior and his decision to terminate Dixon’s employment.”

Both Fortune and Dallas, she wrote, had raised claims that could lead to an inference that they had been “constructively discharged” by the creation of a workplace so hostile they could not remain. King also noted that Fortune’s effort to have the OEEO file a complaint had been fruitless, as had Dallas’ complaints to her supervisor.

In June 2013, Judge Thomas Thrash approved King’s recommendation, and Ware took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

On Jan. 22, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners emerged from executive session and voted 5-0 to approve a $100,000 settlement and unspecified attorney fees, according to commission records.

In April, the litigation was dismissed with prejudice. A motion for dismissal filed with the appellate court said the case had been mediated through the Kinnard Mediation Center.

The letter from Nugent, one of the Greenberg Traurig lawyers representing Ware and the county, said the firm’s representation “included an extensive pre-litigation investigation, leading and supervising all litigation efforts, commencing appeals of the trial court rulings, leading and coordination mediation efforts, and negotiating and finalizing settlement of the claims.”

The case is Dixon v. Ware, No. 1:12-CV-03922.

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