BENTON – Former Madison County community development director Kristen Poshard alleges county Board member Phil Chapman sexually harassed her in a lawsuit filed in U.S. district court on March 19.
She claims board chairman Kurt Prenzler and administrator Doug Hulme fired her in retaliation for complaining about Chapman.
Her lawyer, Ferne Wolf of Town and Country, Mo., filed the suit against the county, Chapman, Prenzler, and Hulme.
Chapman declined to comment on the litigation.
According to Poshard, in May 2017, Chapman requested a confidential meeting.
She claims she believed the meeting related to county business and agreed to meet him at Cracker Barrel in Troy. At the meeting, she claims Chapman hugged her and later said he became excited and tingly.
She claims he peeled off notes with questions designed to engage Poshard in personal and sexual conversation, with one note asking her to guess his underwear.
“When plaintiff refused to answer, Chapman said he was wearing a black thong,” the lawsuit says.
Chapman allegedly asked if she was shocked.
“She said she definitely was, got up, and left,” the suit says.
Poshard also alleges that Hulme called Poshard and said she would be paired with Chapman at a golf tournament. She says that she responded that she didn’t want to be paired with him and that he made inappropriate advances.
“Hulme laughed as plaintiff told him what Chapman had done and how Chapman’s conduct made her feel,” the suit says.
Poshard claims that Hulme told her to take one for the team.
She allegedly responded that he “was whoring her out.”
After that, Poshard claims she reported Chapman’s conduct to information technology director Rob Dorman.
Dorman allegedly later told Poshard that Hulme insisted on the pairing and that Chapman had begged to golf with her.
Chapman then allegedly came to Poshard’s office, instructed her to erase his messages, and started erasing messages on his phone.
He also allegedly asked when they would have their first kiss.
On June 3, 2017, Poshard claims she notified Prenzler and Chapman that she wouldn’t attend the tournament.
On the same date, Chapman allegedly contacted Poshard and said he scheduled a meeting in Chicago the same weekend she would be there.
Poshard states that she reported Chapman to Prenzler on June 7, and that Prenzler apologized and said he felt terrible.
She alleges that Prenzler then directed Hulme to speak with them, and Hulme brought compliance officer John Thompson with him. Thompson allegedly said Chapman had to go.
On June 10, she claims that Prenzler and Hulme met with her and her, and all agreed the best step would be to ban Chapman from county buildings.
“Prenzler said to expect retaliation because Chapman was the most vindictive person in the county,” Poshard alleges.
She wrote that as of June 11, it appeared Chapman might resign.
“Within a short time, however, he changed his mind,” the suit says.
The county hired a retired judge (James Hackett) to decide if Poshard’s allegations amounted to a violation of county policy.
“The retired judge concluded that even taking plaintiff at her word, the events were not adequate for a finding under county policy,” Poshard’s suit claims. “Thus, in hiring the judge, the county was not concerned with taking reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior.”
She states that the judge’s summary included no interviews with witnesses. And then, within a couple of weeks, the county placed her on administrative leave.
The county discharged Poshard on Oct. 18, 2017.
Poshard claims that Prenzler then “distributed a press release to make it appear plaintiff was concealing information from the public.”
Her suit separately alleges sexual discrimination against Prenzler for hiring her at $92,000 when the county paid $103,000 to her predecessor, Frank Miles.
She claims that twice she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received two notices of right to sue.
Prenzler issued a press release on March 20, stating he discussed Poshard’s allegations with Chapman on June 7, 2017.
“As the result of that conversation, I asked Chapman to resign from the county board,” Prenzler stated.
“With the approval of the state’s attorney’s office, we then retained retired judge Jim Hackett to investigate the charge of sexual harassment.”
Prenzler wrote that he made all witnesses, records and files available to Hackett.
He wrote that Hackett’s report was made available to each board member, and that Poshard was provided time off and safe accommodations but refused to return to work.
“During her long absence, issues arose in her department that needed to be addressed by a director,” Prenzler wrote.
He wrote that after thorough deliberation, the county board unanimously removed Poshard from her position.
District Judge Staci Yandle will preside.