Three women have filed a lawsuit accusing Fulton County’s top legal official of sexually harassing them when they worked in his office, trying repeatedly to talk them into trysts and then making their jobs unbearable when they turned him down.
County Attorney David Ware called the case a “blackmail attempt” in an e-mail Tuesday. His bosses on the County Commission say they’re convinced the ex-employees’ claims are bogus, and they agreed to Ware’s recommendation to hire Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig to represent him at taxpayer expense.
“It is totally, as I understand, without merit,” County Commissioner Tom Lowe said. “For years, it’s been said, ‘Oh, just sue the county. They’ll pay you $25,000 just to get you off their back.’ David thinks that’s a bad reputation to have.”
In a civil lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, a former staff attorney, a former paralegal and Ware’s former executive assistant said he made repeated sexual advances toward them in 2009 and 2010, often with lewd comments and leering.
According to the lawsuit, former paralegal Dionne Dixon said he once asked her to have sex on the couch in his office with the door locked.
Tonya Fortune, the former executive assistant, alleges Ware told her that if she consented to an affair, he would help her financially.
Former staff attorney Wanda Dallas — now labor relations manager for the Fulton County Sheriff’s office — said Ware once called her into his office and, writing one word at a time on Post-it notes and holding them up for her to see, wrote out, “Are you interested in having a relationship with me?” while nodding in the direction of the couch.
Dixon and Fortune declined to be interviewed and Dallas did not return calls. Their attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The lawsuit seeks back pay, lost wages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
Dixon, whom Ware fired for unclear reasons in late 2011, filed a complaint with the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, which investigates discrimination and harassment allegations.
County spokeswoman Ericka Davis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month that the investigation had been completed and found in Ware’s favor. Three county commissioners also said that was the case.
However, after the AJC requested a copy of the investigative file under the state’s Open Records Act, Greenberg Traurig attorney Mark Trigg responded that Davis was misinformed and the investigation is ongoing, making it not subject to public disclosure.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also requested legal bills and documents showing the cost to taxpayers for outside legal representation in the case. Greenberg Traurig initially denied that request, too, but said Tuesday it will release invoices with some portions redacted.
Documents hadn’t been provided by the end of the day Tuesday. Commissioner Robb Pitts said the maximum rate for outside legal representation is $400 per hour and he doubts the rate will be that high.
Greenberg Traurig is based in Miami but has a branch in Atlanta.
Ernest Greer, an attorney at the firm, said Dallas and Fortune “appear to have been recruited to join in Ms. Dixon’s fight.
“A thorough investigation has uncovered no evidence supporting their claims,” Greer said in an e-mail, “with the exception of the self-serving statements made by these plaintiffs, who are close personal friends. The evidence will show that plaintiffs’ claims are financially-motivated to take advantage of Fulton County and, in naming Mr. Ware, have forced the county to incur the expense of hiring outside counsel.”