In Georgia, state government departments and agencies are told they can handle sexual harassment claims in a way that fits their culture. But this freedom can result in outcomes that leave victims disillusioned.
Too often that was the case at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, an AJC examination found. In reviewing nearly 200 complaints since 2013 by employees of 17 state agencies, the department had some of the most egregious behavior and curious administrative decisions.
How does the department justify its handling of these cases? It doesn’t.
Spokeswoman Angelyn Dionysatos provided a statement that the department complies with its policies, state personnel rules and applicable laws. But she said it would not comment on individual cases nor make anyone available for an interview.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said large corporations don’t operate that way, so it makes no sense in government.
“I think the leadership of any government or any corporation has an obligation to make sure that sexual harassment complaints are dealt with professionally and people are given even and appropriate treatment,” she said.
Whether that is happening inside the state’s various departments is “a question we should answer.”
Here’s a look at some cases the AJC reviewed.
‘Just joking around’
A year ago, Joe Seigler was a painter for the maintenance staff at East Central Regional Hospital, a two-campus center in Augusta that treats people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. It was a low-paying job, but Seigler took it for the good hours and opportunity to advance.
These days, Seigler, 47, is struggling to put his life back together after lodging a sexual harassment complaint against his male supervisor.
Seigler reported that Tony Sharp, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, came behind him while he was bent over, grabbed his waist and simulated a sex act.
“I just wanted to hit him,” Seigler said in an interview with the AJC.
The incident occurred in front of a coworker, who corroborated Seigler’s account. Seigler said it wasn’t the first time Sharp harassed him. In statements to departmental investigators, Seigler detailed times when Sharp grabbed his leg and buttocks. Another time, Seigler reported, Sharp called him into a bathroom and dropped his pants.
When confronted, Sharp confessed. “I was just joking around,” he said, according to a human resources document. “I have seen and heard much worse.”
But in a written statement, Sharp changed his story, saying Seigler was bent over looking for a tool and “was a little close to me, so I put my hands on his hip to move him to the side.”
Sharp was placed on paid leave while the month-long investigation was completed. On Aug. 31, he got his punishment: A written reprimand because his conduct was found to be “unacceptable and inappropriate.” But nowhere was he found to have sexually harassed Seigler.
Three weeks later, Sharp signed the reprimand, but he wrote under his name, “Do not fully agree with full statement.”
Seigler said he was transferred to another campus, while Sharp stayed in his position.
“He got a vacation out of this, as far as I’m concerned,” Seigler said.
In December, Seigler submitted an anguished letter of resignation describing the job as “detrimental to the rest of my life because of the suffering it inflicts.”
‘Just pure hell’
Jammie Duvall had worked less than two weeks in the cafeteria at West Central Regional Hospital when warehouse clerk Jeffery White described to her — in pornographic detail — a sexual conquest.
Duvall says she laughed, covering up her shock and embarrassment. She wanted the job to go smoothly. She wanted to get along with co-workers. She had aspirations of working her way up from the $8.35-per-hour job into a management position.
“Um, that’s not something you want to tell somebody,” Duvall said she told White, as she rode shotgun with him in a food delivery truck.
Duvall said White spent the next two months bullying and propositioning her in language that disgusted her, according to an internal file.
Making matters worse, Duvall said, was the attitude of her immediate supervisor, Kimberly Luttrell. Duvall said once she rode with White to fill up the truck with gas, and when she returned, Luttrell insinuated to others that they’d been out having sex.
Duvall said she reported the situation to a higher supervisor, Food Services Director Kim Long, but Long took it no further.
After less than three months on the job, Duvall handed her resignation to HR, citing harassment. Only then did Behavioral Health launch an internal investigation, imploring Duvall not to quit.
Within a week, investigators had statements from two other hospital workers saying White had harassed them, too. One said he made vulgar comments to her and others, including bragging about his penis size. The other said White offered in a hospital hallway to give her oral sex and offered to pay her for sex.
The AJC couldn’t locate White for comment.
“I’m flirtatious,” White told investigators, according to the records. “I’ve never sexually assaulted no one.”
Duvall was moved to a housekeeping job because she said she couldn’t continue to work in the cafeteria. White stayed where he was.
After the interviews, weeks passed with no action.
Then, driving into work one night, Duvall said she passed White as he was leaving, and he gave her a smirk and a wave. After that shift, she never returned, quitting without giving notice.
“Having to work with him was just pure hell,” she said.
Duvall said she didn’t know until an AJC reporter told her that White had been fired and both Long and Luttrell had received reprimands. The supervisors declined interview requests.
“I think it was handled awful,” Duvall said. “I felt like I was being punished for something that I had no control over.”
‘Just playing around’
A female psychologist at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville said she had been having trouble for months with Dan Dollar, a security guard whose duties included holding staff members’ personal keys while they were at the secure facility.
According to departmental records, it started in December 2016 with Dollar catcalling her and commenting on her appearance. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said Dollar regularly withheld her keys to prolong their interaction. When he did hand them over, she reported he “touched her hands in an inappropriate and intentional manner.”
The behavior escalated when he started asking her personal questions, including her maiden name so he could find her on Facebook. She refused to say.
Last September, as the woman was retrieving her keys, Dollar held them back and allegedly whispered that he had something to tell her. In a bizarre ramble, Dollar allegedly described to the woman how he masturbated while watching game show host Drew Carey on “The Price is Right.”
The woman said Dollar then laughed and handed over her keys. As she walked to her car, she said Dollar followed her in a state vehicle, again talking about his private fantasies. The woman immediately texted a female colleague about the encounter.
“What a (expletive) weirdo,” her colleague wrote back.
The AJC contacted Dollar, but he would not speak about the accusations.
“I just prefer to not to speak and return to that time period of my life,” he said in an email. “I have moved on from the department and they have moved on from me. I prefer to keep it that way.”
Investigators found other women with similar complaints about Dollar. One said Dollar made her jump for her keys. Several more complained of unwanted stroking or scratching of their hands when they tried to get their keys. One said she didn’t report it because it was “the culture” of the hospital.
“She stated that there is a lot of sexual behavior that goes on in the building that is inappropriate,” the investigators noted.
For his part, records show Dollar denied harassing anyone and said he was “just playing around and did not realize that he was offending anyone.” He denied telling the psychologist that he masturbated to game shows.
Investigators recommended he be fired, but departmental officials in Atlanta overruled them. Dollar received a written reprimand “because they are not sure if Mr. Dollar fully understands that it was offensive,” the final report states.
The psychologist who lodged the original complaint told the AJC she never saw the outcome of the investigation until the newspaper provided her with the file.
“My faith in the system has wavered quite a bit,” she said. “It’s just appalling to me that they just took his word.”
According to her, Dollar returned to work in another building on the hospital campus but quit shortly thereafter.
“There really was no consequence to him at all,” she said.