Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Fired employee sues Erie County, claiming sexual harassment, retaliation

SANDUSKY — Erie County’s former solid waste district coordinator has filed a lawsuit claiming she was passed over for jobs because she was a woman, was sexually harassed by another employee, then was terminated while on medical leave dealing with a serious medical condition.

Lisa Beursken, 38, alleges sex discrimination, sexual harassment, defamation, retaliation, and both interference and retaliation related to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in her lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division. She is suing the county, county commissioners, and the county’s environmental services department and is seeking more than $75,000.

When asked why she chose to file the suit, David Goldense, an attorney for Ms. Beursken, said, “I suppose the answer is she didn't have any other options.”

Matt Old, an Erie County commissioner, declined to comment on most questions presented by The Blade, citing the pending litigation.

“We take any complaints in any department very seriously,” he said.

Ms. Beursken says in her lawsuit that she worked in her position from Sept. 6, 2006, to June 8, 2017, and received praise and good reviews for her work. But starting in 2015 she began asking for a raise or promotion, because she said men with similar positions were paid more.

“Ms. Beursken, the sole female superintendent in the Defendant department was earning approximately five to ten dollars less [per hour] than the other superintendents, all of whom are male,” the complaint reads.

She lists three occasions where she was passed over for jobs she said she was qualified for, and says on each occasion she was not even granted an interview. Once, she said her supervisor told her, “You are a female and the County Commissioners would never hire a female in that position,” according to the lawsuit.

When she brought these and other concerns to Nancy Ostrander, Erie County human resources director, she said she was brushed aside.

Ms. Ostrander would not comment for this story.

Many of her concerns center on Chris Decker, manager of the Erie County Wastewater Treatment Plant. Ms. Beursken claims Commissioner Pat Shenigo — who did not return a message left at the commissioners’ office last week — relied on Mr. Decker’s opinions to make decisions, and that she was required to get Mr. Decker’s approval even though he was not her direct supervisor.

“Employees under Decker’s supervision repeatedly complained of Decker’s harassment to no avail,” the complaint reads. 

In May, 2017, Ms. Beursken and Mr. Decker met for drinks after work, and Mr. Decker told her he wanted to ask her on a date, an overture she denied. He invited her to his house, but she said no, according to the complaint.

That night, she says, he sent “repeated text messages containing lewd and suggestive descriptions of what he wanted to do to Ms. Beursken sexually and how she would love it.”

“The messages continued the next morning and included things such as how he loved when Ms. Beursken wore boots and how when he heard them, he would watch her in the surveillance cameras in his office,” according to the complaint.

Days later, Ms. Beursken notes in her lawsuit that she experienced severe pain at work and drove to the emergency room. She said she contacted her supervisor and she believed the human resources department was notified.

On May 17, she was told she needed surgery, and was placed on pain medication that prohibited her from operating machinery. A May 25 scheduled surgery was postponed to June 9, according to the lawsuit. On May 25, county officials spoke to Ms. Beursken’s doctors, who she says provided inaccurate information to the county. 

On June 1, despite still being in severe pain, Ms. Ostrander ordered Ms. Beursken to return to work, according to the complaint. She returned to work June 5, and was accused by Ms. Ostrander of faking her illness. 

Ms. Ostrander placed her on leave the next day and ordered she be fired. Roughly a week later, Mr. Decker moved into Ms. Beursken’s office and on June 8 — as Ms. Beursken awaited surgery — the county notified her that she would be fired for failing to return to work and failing to provide certification for her absence, the lawsuit contends.

After her surgery, doctors discovered a more severe condition that required more extensive surgery on June 26, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Decker did not return a voicemail requesting comment.

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