Harassment investigation could take 180 days

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, August 8, 2013

It could be Jan. 22 of next year before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission completes an investigation into a claim of sexual harassment and discrimination against a Pike County Commissioner.

“When we get a charge of discrimination, we investigate it and then all sorts of outcomes are possible,” said James Ryan, spokesperson for the EEOC.

District 5 Commissioner Charlie Harris was arrested July 26 by the Troy Police Department and charged with harassment before being released on $500 bond. Harris’ arrest came one day after attorney Julian McPhillips filed a formal complaint with the EEOC regarding an incident reported to have occurred July 22 at the Pike County Commission building in Troy.

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McPhillips’ client, a Pike County employee, said in her complaint that Harris inappropriately and “forcibly” kissed her and pressed against her. The EEOC complaint also notes this wasn’t the first time Harris made unwanted advance toward the employee.

The complaint cites a possible inappropriate comment in July 2010, and a November 2010 incident in which Harris allegedly called the victim a “sexy hot mama” and said he wanted “a piece of that.” The EEOC complaint also says Harris made a comment in February 2010 that made the victim feel uncomfortable before he kissed her on the forehead.

Attempts to reach Harris on Thursday were unsuccessful.

While the EEOC representative would not discuss the specifics of the allegations against Harris, he did explain the process that will be followed. The EEOC has 180 days to review the charges and investigate the claims before moving on with other actions. At that time the EEOC could choose to take action or to issue a “right to sue” letter which gives the complaintant the opportunity to pursue civil litigation either because the EEOC doesn’t find merit to pursue its disciplinary actions or because the EEOC believes the complaintant would find better recourse through civil litigation.

“We may feel that the charges have merit, but for a number of reasons [a victim] may be better off with a state or local civil case,” Ryan said.

Instead of a letter stating the victim could move forward with a lawsuit, the EEOC may come up with a settlement between the victim and an employer that is acceptable to all sides. That settlement could include training to make certain a similar incident doesn’t happen again at the workplace, monetary compensation for the victim, or granting a promotion or job opportunity that may have been wrongfully denied to the victim.

“Sometimes a complainant doesn’t want to go back to the workplace, so sometimes it might involve a positive letter of recommendation in order to help them seek out other employment,” Ryan said, noting that the goal of a settlement involves an attempt at “making [the victim] whole.”

If a settlement can’t be reached, Ryan explained, then the EEOC may take an employer to court, which usually ends in some sort of settlement and then consent decree.

While the investigation process is not open to the public, any decision or outcome is filed as public record.

Ryan also said the EEOC complaint and any potential EEOC action would not affect Harris’ position as a county commissioner. “The criminal situation is separate,” Ryan said. “Nothing that we do would mandate that someone would be removed from a position.”