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MERCER COUNTY Women settle lawsuit involving harassment



Published: Tue, February 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mercer County paid out $57,500 to resolve sexual harassment claims.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- Revelations that an employee in Mercer County's fiscal department was being sexually harassed led three other female county workers to say they also were harassment victims.

Atty. Richard Peterson, who represented one of the victims, said all four women had been harassed by the same management-level county employee.

One of the four also was harassed by a second management-level employee, he said.

All of the women planned to file a federal court suit against the county if the matter wasn't resolved by county commissioners.

Peterson and Atty. Jack W. Cline, representing the other three victims, said in a prepared statement Monday that the county paid $57,500 to the women to end the matter.

Source of money: The county's insurance company paid $47,500 of the amount and the county took the rest from a budget line item for litigation, said commissioner Olivia Lazor.

The harassment spanned nine months last year, from early January through September, Cline said.

Neither Cline nor Peterson would identify those accused of the harassment. Cline would only say that no one with the county court system was involved.

"My client was the original victim," said Peterson, who represented Roberta Leonard, former grant and allocation director for the county's fiscal department and assistant to Jeff Swartzbeck, the former fiscal director.

Peterson said that once stories about her harassment began to surface, the other three women came forward to say they had also been harassed. The four discussed their mutual problem.

The others were identified by Cline as Onalee Godfrey, former administrative assistant to former commissioner Brian Shipley; Suzanne Hockenberry, former management information systems director; and Kim Deniker, Mercer County law librarian.

Three quit jobs: Of the four, only Deniker remains employed by the county. The other three quit last fall, Cline said.

He said the women wanted the results of the case to be made public because they had been treated "as if this was a lot of nonsense."

"They wanted to clear the air. It was substantial enough to draw that amount of payment," Cline added.

Lazor said she can't understand that comment.

"We took it very seriously," she said, adding, "It was taken seriously from the day it came to the attention of the county commissioners who were in office at the time."




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