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Lawsuit Claims Josephine County Sheriff's Office Fosters Harassing Culture

<p>The Josephine County Jail in Grants Pass, Ore., is pictured in an undated photo.</p>

Dave Blanchard

The Josephine County Jail in Grants Pass, Ore., is pictured in an undated photo.

The Josephine County Sheriff's Office has a culture of "sexual banter and innuendo" and discriminates against female employees, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week by a current female sheriff's deputy.

The lawsuit outlines specific examples of sexual harassment toward the female employee, including threats of violence, lewd text messages by a male supervisor and being repeatedly propositioned for sex by multiple male coworkers.

The lawsuit also claims sweeping discrimination toward women who work at the southwest Oregon law enforcement agency.

Deputy Teresa O'Brien, who filed the lawsuit, has worked for the sheriff's office since 1995, when she began as a reserve deputy.

The lawsuit claims O'Brien and other women "have been subject to frequent and ongoing sexual harassment by male employees, deputies, and/or higher level management and command staff."

O'Brien names Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel and four other sheriff's office employees as defendants. The county's attorney didn't immediately respond to request for comment. O'Brien's Salem-based attorney, Larry Linder, also didn't return a message Friday.

"Many of the male employees that engage in sexual harassment against [O'Brien] and other female employees are in higher levels of supervisory authority, which has made it difficult to report complaints and/or has created a chill effect for subordinate employees to find recourse and/or to complain," the lawsuit states.

O'Brien made a formal complaint to human resources at the sheriff's office Jan. 29, 2018, the lawsuit states, but she said she was retaliated against. During the county's investigation into her claims, Cpl. Nicholas Boyers said a disciplinary letter was being placed in her file at the direction of Daniel and Undersheriff Travis Snyder for the "alleged inappropriate treatment of a co-worker."

Even after O'Brien complained, she still heard sexual banter, the lawsuit states.

"On other occasions, the employees would make a point to state that they could not say it in front of [O'Brien] and either leave or ask if [O'Brien] would be offended."

O'Brien claims the most serious sexual harassment came from her then-supervisor Sgt. Ray Webb. At times, the lawsuit states, Webb was intoxicated at work and propositioned O'Brien for sex.

Webb also sent hundreds of inappropriate text messages to O'Brien, including a picture of a bed with stained sheets.

Others include:

"I don’t have a muscular body but I could still rub my junk on you."

"I think we should be curled up on the couch in our jammy’s watching Netflix."

"Do you want to know what I would do with you to keep you satisfied or leave it in the wind."

In other text messages, Webb seemed to acknowledge his actions were inappropriate and unwanted.

"I try not to be inappropriate with you but I’m truthful when I say things that might be inappropriate," he allegedly wrote in another text to O'Brien.

The lawsuit states that another Josephine County Sheriff's Office employee, Lt. Edward Vincent, regularly made sexually charged comments to O'Brien and other employees.

At one point, Vincent pulled O'Brien toward him and kissed her on the head. The lawsuit said O'Brien viewed this interaction as "unwanted."

The harassment wasn't just sexual in nature. The lawsuit also claims male co-workers retaliated against her when she complained by not providing backup to O'Brien when she requested it. At times, the lawsuit states, that left O'Brien in dangerous positions.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect where Josephine County is located.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.