The woman said she wasn’t even looking to file a formal complaint. But griping to her supervisor about how the leader of an elite environmental cleanup team had passed her over for a promotion, the words slipped out of her mouth.
“You know, I should have reported him for sexual harassment,” the woman said, “but I just couldn’t put myself through that.”
“Well, I wish you hadn’t told me that,” her supervisor told her. “Now I gotta’ report it.”
The woman, a 15-year Environmental Protection Division employee, would recount that exchange weeks later, in June 2014, while under questioning by a GBI agent.
In a case that stands as Exhibit A for just how badly a state agency can bungle a sexual harassment allegation, Georgia eventually paid her $200,000 — the largest payout over such a claim that the AJC found in five years of executive agency records.
Whether her allegations were true never became clear, but case records show EPD’s human resources office put false information about the woman in official records and showed deference to the man she accused, all apparently because an HR manager misunderstood her timeline of events in her first telling of what happened.
One central fact is undisputed: When the woman was hoping to join the Emergency Response Team in 2011, she emailed nude photos of herself to team member Jerry Campbell. Then she got on the team.
Two years later, as the team was being reconstituted and Campbell had been promoted to its manager, she tried for a position again.
He told her, “What are you going to give me this time?” according to a lawsuit she later filed. Believing he wanted some sexual favor, she refused, and she didn’t get picked despite a glowing recommendation from an EPD assistant director, her suit alleged.
After her remark to her supervisor, he handed the case over to human resources. Records show HR responded by ordering her to submit to a polygraph test, which never happened, but she was subjected to more than two hours of grilling by a GBI agent.
Focusing on the possibility of a quid pro quo, GBI polygrapher Ben Hanson mostly wanted to know when, exactly, she sent the photos to Campbell — in 2011, when he was just a member of the team, or in 2013, when he’d been promoted to team leader and could decide who got the job. She said 2011.
Hanson also wanted to know whose idea it was to trade the pictures for a job recommendation. His, she said.
“He said, ‘Well, send ‘em to my personal e-mail,’” the woman told the agent in a recorded interview.
“And what’d you say?” Hanson asked.
“‘Is that gonna get me the job?’ ‘Oh, yeah, you’ll definitely get the job.’”
The session ended with Human Resources Manager Randy Harris entering the room and accusing her of changing her story, moving the timeline forward from 2011 to 2013, which she denied.
“We’ll just see what happens,” Harris told her.
That same day, the GBI agent spent nearly three hours talking to Campbell, culminating in a polygraph, which the agent said he passed. Campbell conceded that, contrary to what he’d told HR, he may have been the one who suggested she send revealing photos, though he denied it was in exchange for help getting a job.
Hanson assured him that his accuser would lose her job, not him.
“She intentionally took old information and tried to manipulate it to appear to be a new scenario where you’re in power, you’re in control,” the agent told Campbell. “She admits it was a fabricated story now. So she’s screwed. She’s gone.”
Six days later, the woman was summarily fired and escorted out of her building.
Though she wasn’t told a reason, Harris said in an internal memo that it was for giving false information. She “took information from a consensual event in 2011 and portrayed it as occurring in 2013 as a non-consensual event,” he said.
That wasn’t true at all, a federal judge ruled later in the civil case. Nothing in the records shows the woman lied about the date or ever said sending the photos was consensual.
Nor does anything in records reviewed by the AJC show Harris taking even fundamental investigative steps. The woman told the GBI that Campbell had once been transferred from one post to another because of harassment complaints. But HR doesn’t appear to have questioned anyone in his orbit, which should be the first step in a “he said/she said” case, according to Atlanta employment attorney Amanda Farahany.
“The first thing I would say, is to gather all the people that might have been working with this individual and had problems themselves,” she said. And next: “If the male has been transferred, or is in another company or department, finding out if there have been any problems in the prior places of work.”
Campbell, who still works for EPD, did not return phone messages seeking comment for this story. Harris, now retired, declined to speak to a reporter.
The woman’s lawsuit, which alleged sex discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation, was settled last year.