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Lee v. Christian

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

March 30, 2015

DEBORAH LEE, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD PAUL CHRISTIAN. individually and in his official capacity as County Manager of Pierce County, Georgia; CARL BOYETTE; TOMMY LOWMAN; TOM DAVIS; and MATTHEW CARTER, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Deborah Lee, Plaintiff: S. Wesley Woolf, LEAD ATTORNEY, S. Wesley Woolf, PC, Savannah, GA.

For Harold Paul Christian, Individually, and in his official capacity as County Manager of Pierce County, Georgia, Defendant: Patrick T. O'Connor, Paul H. Threlkeld, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Oliver Maner, LLP, Savannah, GA; Sarah H. Lamar, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter Maclean, PC, Savannah, GA.

For Carl Boyette, Individually, and in his official capacity as Commissioner of Pierce County, Georgia, Tommy Lowman, Tom Davis, Individually, and in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Blackshear, Georgia, Pierce County, Georgia, Defendants: G. Todd Carter, Richard K. Strickland, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Brown, Readdick, Bumgartner, Carter, Strickland, Brunswick, GA; Paul H. Threlkeld, LEAD ATTORNEY, Oliver Maner, LLP, Savannah, GA.

For Mathew Carter, Defendant: Courtney Lauren Valentine, LEAD ATTORNEY, HunterMaclean, PC, Savannah, GA; Sarah H. Lamar, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter Maclean, PC, Savannah, GA.

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ORDER

LISA GODBEY WOOD, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

All of the Defendants, except Harold Christian, have filed Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Original and Amended Complaints. Dkt. Nos. 10, 14, 27, 29. It is those Motions that are before the Court presently. Upon due consideration, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are DENIED.

I . FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Deborah Lee worked as the Director of the Pierce County Chamber of Commerce from June of 1999 until February of 2013.[1] She lives in the City of Blackshear, within Pierce County, Georgia. Dkt. No. 21, ¶ 8. Defendants in this case are Harold Paul Christian, County Manager of Pierce County; Carl Boyette, County Commissioner of Pierce County; Tommy Lowman, Better Hometown Manager for the City of Blackshear; Matthew Carter, Director of the Pierce County Industrial Development Authority, which receives substantial funding from Pierce County; and Tom Davis, the Mayor of Blackshear, Georgia, at all times relevant to the Complaint. Dkt. No. 21 ¶ ¶ 10-13, 15.

Plaintiff started working for the Pierce County Chamber of Commerce in June of 1999. Dkt. No. 21, ¶ 14. Throughout her employment, Plaintiff " served faithfully as [the Chamber of Commerce's] Director and performed her duties well[.]" Id. Defendant Christian became the County Manager of Pierce County in approximately August of 2011. Id. at ¶ 15. From the time he began serving in that position, Defendant Christian became a daily visitor to Plaintiff's offices at the Chamber of Commerce. Id. at ¶ 16. While visiting, Defendant Christian " was extremely friendly, helpful and encouraging" ; he " often discussed with [Plaintiff] ways in which the annual financial contribution of the county to the Chamber of Commerce could be increased." Id. at ¶ 17.

Not long after his employ with Pierce County began, Defendant Christian allegedly began making frequent and inappropriate, sexually-charged comments to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff summarizes the nature of those comments in her Amended Complaint:

o Opinion about the provocative nature of [Plaintiff's] physical shape;
o Comments offering [Plaintiff] a higher salary in exchange for sexual favors;
o Ongoing requests, complete with sexually-charged itinerary, that he and [Plaintiff] take out-of-town trips together at taxpayer expense;
o Comments reflecting an obsession with [Plaintiff's] manner of dressing, specifically characterizing her dress as " dressing like a hooker" and wearing " stripper shoes" to work;
o Promises to include the Chamber of Commerce in the Pierce County employment benefits program in exchange for sexual favors; and
o Promises to increase, and promises not to decrease, Pierce County's monthly contribution to the Chamber of Commerce in exchange for sexual favors.

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Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff became fearful of being alone with Defendant Christian and started to take steps to avoid that possibility. Plaintiff would, for example, lock her office door when she thought Defendant Christian might visit so it would appear that she was not there. Id. at ¶ 20.

According to Plaintiff, Defendant Christian would go to the local gym when Plaintiff was there, during lunch or in the afternoon. Id. at ¶ 21. One day in June of 2012, while Plaintiff was at the gym during lunch, " Defendant Christian forcibly and against [Plaintiff's] will, grabbed and turned [Plaintiff's] body and attempted to press his lips against her lips." Id. Plaintiff quickly turned her head so that the attempted kiss landed on her cheek. Plaintiff states that she had to " forcibly detach herself from Defendant Christian." Id. Just after the encounter, Defendant Christian blew Plaintiff a kiss as he left the gym. Id.

The next day, Defendant Christian went to the Chamber of Commerce and spoke with Plaintiff. Defendant Christian allegedly said that Plaintiff was a " nice looking woman", which was " why men would hit on [her]", and this accounted for his conduct the previous day at the gym--not " sexual harassment." Id. at ¶ 22. Defendant Carter, who shared a small office with Plaintiff, was present when Defendant Christian made these comments, and, according to Plaintiff, " remarked" on Defendant Christian's comments. Id.

Plaintiff attests that she grew fearful of further inappropriate and violent conduct by Defendant Christian. She started taking more extreme steps to avoid Defendant Christian, such as " scheduling avoidance" of him, disassociating from him at meetings, and continuing to lock the office door when she was there alone. Id. at ¶ 23. Because Defendant Carter shared office space with Plaintiff, he was sometimes inconvenienced by the locked door. Defendant Carter expressed that he knew why Plaintiff was locking the door, and that was " because she feared Defendant Christian as a result of his sexually-charged conduct and interest in her." Id. at ¶ 24.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Christian enlisted the help of the other Defendants in a conspiracy to deprive her of her employment with the Chamber of Commerce. Id. at ¶ 25. According to Plaintiff, all Defendants knew about Defendant Christian's sexually-charged conduct towards and interest in Plaintiff; they also knew that Plaintiff rejected that conduct and interest. Id. at ¶ 26. Plaintiff contends that Defendants further knew that Defendant Christian sought to have Plaintiff's employment terminated because she rejected his advances. Id. at ¶ 27.

As factual support for the existence of the conspiracy, Plaintiff contends that, after the encounter between Plaintiff and Defendant Christian at the gym, all of the individual Defendants attended multiple meetings held for the purpose of having Plaintiff removed from her position of employment. Defendants allegedly discussed their reasons and strategies for achieving that purpose. Id. at ¶ 28. After one of these meetings, Defendant Carter returned to the shared office and told Plaintiff, " *[T]hey are going to squeeze you out,' in part by cutting the funding.'" Id. at ¶ 30. Defendant Carter also told Plaintiff, " without any sympathy", that she needed " to take a long hard look at things [.]" Id. at ΒΆ 31. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Carter assumed he would be chosen to replace her and offered to make her his " assistant or secretary", which Plaintiff characterizes as a " more ...


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