Maumelle City Council's
vote on Monday to settle a sexual harassment complaint by two employees after the alleged offender — the city clerk — refused to resign did not sit well with one alderman: Ward 3 representative Preston Lewis
thought the settlement should have gotten a public hearing and been accompanied by a no-confidence vote or public censure.
, the city's Human Resources Department specialist, and Nicole Heaps
, director of senior services, filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in January against City Clerk and Treasurer Joshua Clausen
, alleging he touched them and made sexual remarks. The city settled for $15,000.
Mayor Mike Watson
had asked Clausen, who has served as city clerk since December 2005, to resign, but he declined.
Lewis was the only alderman to vote against the settlement, which was reached after months of mediation. He said he wasn't unhappy with the settlement, but with the way it was handled. The agreement was brought before the council two hours into its meeting, Lewis said. "I thought it flew in face of transparency to insert something on the agenda which we not have even seen." He said the mayor was advised to get the settlement signed quickly before the complainants got "cold feet." Lewis made a motion that the council delay the vote for seven days to allow "the complainants in the mediation to have had time to review their decision and the public to have posed questions and ask questions of the council." And, Lewis added, agreement "should have come with a vote of censure or no confidence."
In a memo to Heaps dated Jan. 29, Mayor Watson wrote that he had conducted a "fact-finding mission" with Human Resources Director Vernon James
and had come to the conclusion that "Mr. Clausen’s behavior was inappropriate for the workplace," but that because Clausen was an elected official, he could not fire him. He continued:
Despite this limitation, I will take reasonable care to prevent and correct any possible harassment.
The following are the steps that I have taken to prevent and correct any possible harassment:
• I asked Mr. Clausen to resign his position as City Clerk/Treasurer;
• Mr. Clausen’s wooden office door has been replaced with a door that has a large glass panel;
• I counseled Mr. Clausen on appropriate workplace behavior;
• During the counseling session, I made it explicitly clear to Mr. Clausen that he is not your supervisor and that you are not required to have any direct contact with him;
• I notified Mr. Clausen that any paperwork or documents that he needs can be left in the box outside of his office or with the Deputy City Clerk, Ms. Lane Brining;
• We will be conducting city-wide harassment training for all employees to prevent possible harassment and so that all employees are aware of their rights and will promptly report any possible harassment;
• City Attorney Caleb Norris and Mr. James will work together to review and update the City’s anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure; and
• I have instructed Mr. Clausen that he is not to retaliate against you in any way.
Mr. Clausen was not willing to resign his position, but he has voluntarily agreed to attend a one on one personalized training sessions on appropriate workplace behavior. He agreed to use the Deputy City Clerk (or another individual) as a liaison between the two of you if any work communication is required. Both you and Mr. Clausen can perform your job duties without having direct communication with each other.
IF YOU FEEL THAT YOU ARE BEING HARASSED OR RETALIATED AGAINST FOR MAKING THIS COMPLAINT, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY NOTIFY MR. JAMES OR MYSELF.
The North Little Rock Times
reported in March that, according to a Maumelle police report, Clausen reached his hand under the shirt of one of complainants and touched her breast. The other woman who complained said Clausen rubbed his right arm and elbow across her breast, and then asked "Did I just do that?"
Criminal charges could still be filed against Clausen, who is the defendant in an age discrimination suit filed by former employee Patricia Meyer in 2014 in Pulaski Circuit Court; that suit has since been removed to federal court.
Hilton and Heaps remain employed with the city.