County employee files suit against commission

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pike County’s emergency management director has filed a lawsuit against the Pike County Commission citing sexual harassment by a commissioner.

Julian McPhillips is representing Jeanna Barnes in the case and said Tuesday his client had worked to settle the matter outside of court, but felt there was no other choice but to file a lawsuit.

“For one thing, we have bent over backwards to get this settled out of court without attention,” McPhillips said. “It makes me wonder if the Pike County Commission wanted us to file suit. We couldn’t get any immediate response from their attorneys. We finally felt we had no choice.”

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According to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court , Barnes said District 6 Commissioner Charlie Harris assaulted her on July 22, 2013, by forcefully grabbing her arms, kissing her and forcing his tongue in her mouth and pressing against her while in the first floor corridor of the Pike County Health Department.

Barnes filed a police report on July 26, 2013, shortly after the incident occurred. Harris turned himself in to Troy Police Department the same day and was released on $500 bond. In November 2013 a local court ruled Harris was not guilty of misdemeanor harassment charges.

Barnes had already filed an official Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the commission and Harris. In the EEOC complaint, Barnes alleges that Harris has made numerous comments to her in 2010 including calling her a “sexy, hot mama.”

Her complaint and lawsuit also state that in February 2011 Barnes had been leaving the courthouse when Harris approached her and wrapped both of his arms around her and said, “This is my big baby,” after kissing her on the forehead. The complaint says Barnes immediately sent an email to County Administrator Harry Sanders.

The complaint states that Barnes was called to county attorney Allen Jones’ office where she was told by District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Barron and Jones that other complaints had been made against Harris.

McPhillips said the prosecutors felt it was an issue that had been in existence for a long time.

“There are witnesses and other women,” McPhillips said.

“I think it’s a situation that’s existed for a very long time and I’m surprised the commission hasn’t done anything about it.”

Barnes declined to comment on the lawsuit, referring questions to her attorney. Sanders said he could not comment and Harris could not be reached for comment.