Public Safety

Linn County Sheriff's Office employees face disciplinary action after harassment investigation

Sheriff: Employee was harassed for using parental leave

The Linn County Correctional Center and Linn County Courthouse on May’s Island in Cedar Rapids as seen from the Alliant Energy tower in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
The Linn County Correctional Center and Linn County Courthouse on May’s Island in Cedar Rapids as seen from the Alliant Energy tower in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Sheriff’s Office employees will face disciplinary action — but not termination or demotion — for harassing a colleague.

Sheriff Brian Gardner told The Gazette three to four employees will face suspensions “lasting no longer than a week or two” and a handful of others will receive written warnings.

The employees who will be disciplined have not been named, but at least one deputy holds rank, Gardner confirmed.

According to a news release from Gardner, a sheriff’s office employee assigned to the Linn County Correctional Center — the jail on May’s Island — filed a harassment claim on June 26 with the county’s human resources department.

The employee — whose name is not included in the news release — reported being harassed for using parental leave authorized by the federal Family Medical Leave Act.

Upon learning of the allegations, Gardner said he reminded all employees of the county’s workplace harassment policy.

“I reiterated that I took the policy seriously and expected Sheriff’s Office employees to do the same,” Gardner said in the news release.

SHERIFF HIRED InveStigator

After consulting with Linn County Human Resources Director Lisa Powell, Gardner hired Cincinnati, Ohio-based attorney Douglas E. Duckett to investigate the complaint. Duckett is a trainer in human resources and labor relations and has been hired by the county in the past to conduct training sessions for employees, Gardner said.

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On July 17, Gardner informed sheriff’s office employees about the complaint and pending outside investigation. A week later, Duckett arrived in Cedar Rapids to interview the complainant and those involved in the allegation. The interviews took place over several weeks due to scheduling issues, Gardner said. Twenty-four employees were interviewed, he said.

Gardner said he received a verbal summary of the investigation Aug. 23 and, after speaking with Duckett and Powell, determined anti-harassment training would benefit the department.

Gardner said employees were given three weeks earlier this month to complete an hourlong, online anti-harassment training video assignment.

The completed investigative report was given to Gardner on Sept. 18.

“(Duckett) confirmed that some employees did engage in inappropriate behavior targeting the deputy who used leave,” Gardner said.

‘Perfect storm’ a factor in harassment

The harassment was attributed to a “perfect storm” during which the Linn County Correctional Center had been understaffed and employees were forced to work multiple 16-hour shifts during the week, including on their days off.

“Having the employee add to the number of vacant shifts added to the already overwhelming workload, even though taking the leave was clearly his right to do so,” Gardner said.

Gardner said staffing levels at the sheriff’s office prompted him to go the Linn County Board of Supervisors and request to hire more officers. Gardner was authorized to hire nine deputies. He has two in the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy now and five scheduled to attend the academy in January.

“By the beginning of April ‘20, I should have almost all of those people hired and trained,” he said.

With summer over and fewer employees requesting vacation, the amount of forced overtime is down “significantly,” Gardner said.

‘LOCKER-ROOM BEHAVIOR’ ALSO CITED

Gardner said Duckett’s report did not recommend demotion or termination of any sheriff’s office employee. All sheriff’s office employees will be required to participate in anti-harassment training conducted by Duckett in late October, Gardner said.

Both the report and disciplinary action will remain confidential, Gardner said.

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Gardner also said Duckett’s investigation uncovered “less than professional behavior” on a single shift at the jail, which also will be addressed with disciplinary action and remedial training. Gardner described the employees’ actions as “locker-room behavior.”

“When people act inappropriately, when they make comments and they treat fellow employees with less respect than they deserve, then it becomes problematic,” Gardner said, noting none of the inappropriate comments were directed toward inmates or the public.

The cost of the investigation — not including the training scheduled for October — is $34,765 and will come out of the sheriff’s budget.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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