Civil lawsuit alleges sexual harassment, discrimination at JoCo Sheriff’s Office

GRANTS PASS, Ore.– Allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination of female employees are being brought against the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office – an office described in a lawsuit filed in federal court by a female deputy as being a culture of “sexual banter and innuendo.”

Deputy Teresa O’Brien described as a woman over the age of 40 is the one filing the civil suit after experiencing this type of harassment since she was first hired in October 1995 as a reserve deputy. The lawsuit was filed on July 3, 2019.

In the suit, it states, “Plaintiff and other female employees have been subject to frequent and ongoing sexual harassment by male employees, deputies, and/or higher level management and command staff.”

The suit lists the county, the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Dave Daniel, and four other personnel as defendants. Those officers were Undersheriff Travis Snyder, Lieutenant Edward Vincent, Sergeant Ray Webb, and Corporal Nicholas Boyers.

NBC5 News reached out to Sheriff Daniel for comment. He referred us to Wally Hicks, Josephine County Legal Counsel, who stated, “Unfortunately, Josephine County is unable to comment about this active litigation.” The county’s attorneys did not respond to request for comment on Wednesday nor did O’Brien’s Salem-based attorney, Larry Linder.

The allegations describe several personal experiences for O’Brien who faced sexual harassment, lewd text messages, retaliation for whistleblowing, and threats of violence. Most of the harassment came from Sgt. Webb who was her supervisor starting around 2015.

At certain points, it’s alleged Sgt. Webb would engage in sexual banter with Deputy O’Brien and attempt to have sex with her. Webb was even sometimes intoxicated at work when he approached her. However, the lawsuit states it appears he was never disciplined for his actions.

Webb also sent O’Brien hundreds of inappropriate text messages including a bed with stained sheets. Other texts included:

  • “You could have toe curls any day of the week if you pick the right person.”
  • “I think we should be curled up on the couch in our jammy’s watching Netflix.”
  • “I don’t have a muscular body but I could still rub my junk on you”

Webb wasn’t the only one who made advances. The lawsuit lists Lt. Edward Vincent, someone O’Brien had worked a long time with, as another person who harassed her. It states Vincent would make sexually charged comments to O’Brien and others and at one point pulled O’Brien’s head towards him and “kissed her on the head.”

O’Brien states these were all unwanted and on January 29, 2018, she put a formal report into JCSO Human Resources. However, leading up to and when she filed the formal complaint, other female employees attempted to discourage her from making them because “they feared retaliation and escalation of the sexual harassment.” The lawsuit states those concerns were correct.

The formal complaint didn’t help and the lawsuit describes forms of retaliation that weren’t sexual. Several times, other employees would make an effort to not have sexual banter in front of her and would ask if she would be offended.

When she would call for back up, no one would respond putting her in a dangerous position. JCSO states that O’Brien never called for back up though and that she expected Webb to know to do so. Webb, her main sex harasser, was often the one who was supposed to respond.

The suit states then, in February 2018, Cpl. Boyers told O’Brien a letter for her “alleged inappropriate treatment of a co-worker” was placed in her file. He told her it was at the direction of Sheriff Daniel and Undersheriff Snyder. The deputy claims her superiors tried to get her fired by putting complaints in her personnel file.

But after she filed a complaint with the county and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “the papers went missing from her file, and JCSO said that it never happened in an effort to discredit [O’Brien] and defend a retaliation claim but not before [O’Brien] was provided a copy of the discipline out of the file.”

O’Brien hasn’t listed how much she is looking to receive but it’s stated she is seeking economic and non-economic damages as compensation which will be determined in trial.

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