former employee has filed a lawsuit against Platte County, claiming sexual harassment and gender discrimination took place against her in the workplace and the county commission didn’t react appropriately to the complaints.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Platte County Circuit Court by Carla Mazotti, alleges the county commission at the time knew of the alleged offenses and failed to take appropriate action.
Mazotti worked as a child support advocate in the prosecutor’s office at the time of the alleged harassment. In the plaintiff’s opening interrogatories filed with the court, Mazotti’s attorneys seek employment file information from the county on an employee who formerly worked in the county’s facilities management department, an indication that he is the alleged harassing party mentioned in the lawsuit.
Mazotti, who resides in Kansas City in Platte County, worked for the county from November of 2002 until Feb. 27 of this year.
The facilities management employee listed in the interrogatories also no longer works for the county, having resigned in November of 2004.
According to court papers, Mazotti is seeking appropriate monetary damages, punitive damages and attorney and legal costs.
“We do not seek a specific dollar amount. Her actual damages would include any medical costs that she has incurred as a result of this,” said Amanda Pennington Ketchum, the attorney for Mazotti. Ketchum is with the law firm Ziegler Pennington Ketchum LLC of Kansas City.
Ketchum said Mazotti has undergone psychological counseling as a result of the situation.
The petition states Mazotti is demanding a jury trial in the case.
Ketchum told The Landmark Wednesday morning that there has been no effort to settle the case with the county thus far.
“We have not had any negotiations since we received the right to sue letter from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights,” Ketchum said. That letter was received on Dec. 28, 2005, and Mazotti had 90 days from that date to file suit.
Asked if she anticipates contact with the county’s representation now that the suit has been filed, Ketchum replied: “There may very well be contact. We served them discovery (the interrogatories) and they will answer within 30-45 days.”
The alleged harassment and discrimination took place in July of 2004. Mazotti claims that on July 13, 2004 while employed by the county commission, she was subjected to a “sexual assault” by the co-worker, when she says he slowly ran his hand across her breast “making a noise that indicated he took pleasure in this groping,” according to the court petition.
In addition to the alleged touching incident, the suit alleges the co-worker at various times “made inappropriate, demeaning and sexually explicit” comments to Mazotti. The suit specifically mentions at least six such comments allegedly made to her or to other employees.
Asked why a lawsuit was filed against the county commission and not against the accused co-worker, Ketchum said: “Our allegation is that the county didn’t react appropriately when my client and others complained. If they had, my client wouldn’t have been put in the position that she was.”
Mazotti’s suit says reports of the alleged harassment were made “to no avail” to the county commission, which at the time consisted of Betty Knight, Michael Short and Steve Wegner. The suit claims several other co-workers notified the county commission of alleged harassing acts by the co-worker before Mazotti was allegedly groped. The suit claims the county commission was advised by legal counsel to immediately terminate the co-worker’s employment, but failed to do so.
“They (the county) had a third party in to investigate the incident, and our understanding is that the advice that was given is that he needed to be terminated,” Ketchum said.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight told The Landmark: “Since it is in litigation, I cannot comment.”
The former co-worker Mazotti accuses of the harassment declined comment when reached by The Landmark Tuesday night. The Landmark is choosing not to use the co-worker’s name since the lawsuit was filed against the county commission and not against the co-worker.
Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd also said he would have no comment, “since none of the allegations are against me or (anyone in) my office.”
Knight referred any comment to an attorney for the county’s insurance company, who will represent the county in this matter. That attorney, Earlene Farr of the law firm Ensz and Jester, had not returned The Landmark’s phone call as of press time.
Jim Plunkett, present second district county commissioner who defeated Wegner in the August 2004 Republican primary, remarked: “That happened under the previous county commission. I wish I could tell you more but I wasn’t in office at the time.”
The county’s insurance is provided by MARCIT, a public entity self-insurance pool providing workers’ compensation, liability, property, health dental and vision insurance to a membership of more than 70 Missouri and Kansas local governments. Members include cities, counties and special purpose local governments.
The case is set for a docket call on July 10 at 9 a.m. in Division II of Platte County Circuit Court. General scheduling issues will be discussed at the July 10 docket call, Ketchum said.
“We may be able to get a trial date (announced) on that day,” she said.