Sheriff's office under fire: another federal lawsuit claims sexual harassment

Madison County sheriff's office faces 4th lawsuit claiming sexual harassment runs rampant inside the law enforcement agency

Posted: Feb. 7, 2018 11:19 AM
Updated: Feb. 7, 2018 11:38 AM

A woman who worked in for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office is suing her former employer in federal court. Erica Cagle claims she was a victim of sexual harassment while she worked for the sheriff’s office.

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Erica Cagle’s lawsuit is the fourth sexual harassment lawsuit or related complaint filed by Florence attorney Mike Weathers on behalf of his clients.

Cagle’s suit names a long list of defendants including Sheriff Blake Dorning, former chief deputy sheriff David Jernigan (now police chief for the city of Madison), former fellow-employees and supervisors inside the sheriff’s office, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, all county commissioners and the county’s human resources department managers.

Cagle’s job began in 2010 as an accounting clerk. She worked her way up to accountant in 2012. Cagle remained in that position until she left her job at the sheriff’s office in 2017.

The lawsuit lays out a work environment where her superiors did little to discourage sexual harassment. The suit suggests the harassment is something that came with the job.

“On or about Cagle’s first day of work, Sheriff Dorning told Cagle that she was going to be subjected to a male dominant work environment at the Sheriff’s Office,” the lawsuit reads. “Sheriff Dorning essentially told Cagle to be expecting a sexually harassing work environment. Sheriff Dorning warned Cagle, because she was going to be working in the main office, front office, that she would be experiencing things from the male employees who would be coming in and out of the office where she worked and that men do what men do.”

The suit takes aim at David Jernigan before he became Madison’s police chief. “Chief Deputy Sheriff Jernigan made inappropriate sexual comments about female employees of the Sheriff’s Office,” the lawsuit claims. “For example, Chief Deputy Sheriff Jernigan told Cagle that female employee Meghin Dorning’s code should be “6969” because she had just come back from her honeymoon.”

The suit goes on to connect Jernigan to another woman, Shelby Holt, who has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the sheriff’s office. “Chief Deputy Sheriff Jernigan told Lt. Charles Zeissler in regard to Deputy Shelby Holt (“Deputy Holt” or “Holt”), ‘Man what I would do to that.’,” the suit says.

The federal complaint lays out Cagle’s complaint against Tim Clark. The suit describes Clark as Sheriff Dorning’s friend. Clark was maintenance manager and worked in fleet maintenance according to the lawsuit. “Clark constantly harassed Cagle trying to get Cagle to go to bars with him, to go to restaurants with him, and to go out with him.” The lawsuit alleges. “Clark even tried to hook Cagle up with his son. Clark drove Cagle crazy. Clark would even come to the office where she worked. Clark sent inappropriate text messages to Cagle.”

The suit goes on to say, “Clark told an inmate who working in the fleet service/ maintenance shop that he (Clark) knew Cagle was f***ing the inmate. This was extremely inappropriate and highly offensive to Cagle.”

Sheriff’s deputy Mike Jones is also a target of the federal lawsuit. “Deputy Jones sent text messages to Cagle regarding the messages (sic) he wanted to give her,” according to the suit. “In one text message, Deputy Jones talked about back rubs and finding “a hiding spot” in the Madison County, Alabama Courthouse in which these back rubs could take place. In another text message, Deputy Jones told Cagle, ‘Lol wear nothing but a towel’,” the complaint reads.

Cagle consulted an attorney about her concerns. When her superiors found out, the lawsuit claims they retaliated.

“Sheriff Dorning and Chief Deputy Sheriff Jernigan immediately started retaliating against Cagle for reporting and complaining about Clark’s sexually harassing her and saying that she was “f***ing” an inmate,” the lawsuit reads.

Aside from the sexual harassment, Cagle claims her employer made unreasonable demands which required her to work off the clock. “Sheriff Dorning asked Cagle to, on a part-time basis and afterhours basis, to make arrangements for deputies to perform escort services for funerals and security services for other events such as religious events,” the complaint claims.

To read the entire complaint filed in US District Court, click here.

WAAY 31 has reached out to many of the defendants named in the lawsuit. As in the previous three federal suits filed against the Madison County sheriff’s office, most parties withhold comment since the cases are pending in court.

However, in September, Chairman Dale Strong issued a statement to WAAY 31 about Shelby Holt’s federal lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office. “While it is our custom not to discuss pending litigation, any time allegations of this nature are made there is cause for concern,” Chairman Strong wrote. “I trust that the Sheriff of Madison County would not tolerate this type of accused conduct and that he will thoroughly investigate any and all accusations.”

Cagle’s lawsuit joins three others filed against the Morgan County sheriff’s office in recent months.

Former Deputy Shelby Holt filed her federal lawsuit in September of last year. Two months later, Deputy Gregory Gray filed his suit. Investigator Marina Garcia filed her federal complaint in December.

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