Madison County Sheriff, County sued for allegations of sexual harassment by deputy

The 35-page lawsuit, filed in federal court on December 11 on behalf of Sonya Massey, is the fifth sexual harassment case filed against Dorning and members of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office since September 2017.

Posted: Dec 19, 2018 9:36 AM
Updated: Dec 19, 2018 3:02 PM

Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning is facing a new lawsuit that alleges sexual harassment.

The 35-page lawsuit, filed in federal court on December 11 on behalf of Sonya Massey, is the fifth sexual harassment case filed against Dorning and members of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office since September 2017.

A lawsuit listing Shelby Holt as the plaintiff was dismissed in July 2018 for “failure to prosecute or failure to comply with a court order.” Holt’s lawyer withdrew from the case due to “serious medical issues” and Holt did not file stating that she had a replacement within the allotted time.

The other four lawsuits are ongoing.

In her complaint, Massey states that Dorning created a “‘men do what men do’ in the workplace environment...regardless of how unwelcome, offensive, discriminatory and/or unequal their behavior in the workplace is toward women.”

She also argues that both “Dorning and the County have a policy, custom, practice and/or procedure of treating female employees who work in the office of the Sheriff, and who complain of sex discrimination/harassment/hostile environment/assault/unequal treatment based on sex, in an abusive and retaliatory manner, in which their complaints are received with disbelief, and threatening them with discipline, job loss and/or criminal prosecution.”

Massey, now a school resource officer, joined the Madison County Sheriff’s Office in March 2009 as a records clerk in the office of the sheriff before she became a deputy on July 25, 2013.

She points to similarities between her claims and those alleged in a lawsuit filed by former employee, Laura Harris, in 2009. That case was dismissed with prejudice in 2010 after both sides agreed to a joint stipulation of dismissal.

Massey’s lawsuit also references two lawsuits filed on behalf Marina Garcia and Erica Cagle in late 2017 and early 2018 respectively.

Massey also claims she was sexually assaulted by her supervisor, Sergeant Gary Cross, on July 20, 2015 during which she said Cross “had his hands all over (her)...and tried to kiss (her).”

She states that she told a third shift dispatcher “about the assault at the time, but did not report it” stating that “she believed that it would damage her career to complain.”

WAAY 31 has reached out to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office for comment, and Lieutenant Donny Shaw said all inquiries about pending litigation are being referred to County Attorney Jeff Rich.

"In 2009, Detention Officer Laura Harris filed a lawsuit making the same claim. Ms. Massey believes that Court intervention and supervision will be necessary to insure that female deputies and employees are protected from retaliation, ostracization and harassment for reporting sexually inappropriate conduct," Kerri Riley, Massey's attorney, said in a statement.

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