The federal Justice Department is seeking to join the lawsuit Doe et al. v. Schuylkill County et al., filed by four female county employees in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
The plaintiffs are four women employed by Schuylkill County and they allege that County Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr., sexually harassed them and that they experienced retaliation when they opposed his sexual harassment.
The allegations in the United States’ complaint in intervention, as described in detail below, include multiple incidents of sexual advances and of coercion of sexual intercourse, and inappropriate sex-based comments occurring over many years.
“When an elected official abuses their power and position to sexually harass public servants in the workplace they can and must be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will not tolerate sexual harassment and will vindicate the rights of survivors.”
“No one should be forced to endure sexual harassment and then have that injury compounded by suffering retaliation for complaining about that harassment in the workplace,” said U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus for the Middle of Pennsylvania. “Our office will work diligently with the Civil Rights Division to enforce the right to be free from unlawful workplace harassment and retaliation.”
The United States’ complaint in intervention alleges that Schuylkill County violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it subjected the four women to Halcovage’s sexual harassment and retaliated against them because they opposed his sexual harassment.
Halcovage used his power as a county commissioner to coerce one of the women, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, to have sex with him numerous times.
Halcovage sexually harassed the other three women through among other things, crude sexual comments, obscene jokes and spreading a false rumor that he had had sex with one of them.
High-ranking Schuylkill County officials were aware of Halcovage’s sexual harassment, but failed to take any actions to stop it until one of the women filed a written complaint.
After the county investigated the written complaint, it determined that Halcovage had violated the county’s sexual harassment policy.
Despite this finding, the county took no disciplinary action against him and he continues to serve as a Schuylkill County Commissioner.
The county retaliated against the four women because of their opposition to Halcovage’s sexual harassment by, among other things, moving two of them to less desirable office locations and demoting the other two.
Despite a clear conflict of interest and his obvious motive to retaliate against them, Halcovage cast the decisive vote to demote the two women.
The United States’ complaint in intervention is based on charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Philadelphia District Office, which investigated the charges and found reasonable cause to believe Schuylkill County violated Title VII. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Justice Department’s proposed intervention in this lawsuit is part of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the department and the EEOC in the vigorous enforcement of Title VII.
This lawsuit is also part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative. The initiative is aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. It focuses on litigation, outreach, and development of effective remedial measures to address and prevent future sex discrimination and harassment.