KIRAN: Second woman files suit against Clerk of Court alleging sexual harassment, retaliation

KIRAN: Second woman files suit against Clerk of Court alleging sexual harassment, retaliation
Damita Lewis (left) and attorney, Jill Craft (right) (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A second woman has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment within the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court.

“My name is Damita Lewis and I was sexually harassed by one of my administrators, someone who had power in his position, and it happened for several years,” said Lewis.

When asked who sexually harassed her, she responded, “Greg Brown, chief deputy clerk of court.”

Lewis started working at the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court in 2010. Now, she’s out of a job and has filed a lawsuit with the help of her attorney, Jill Craft. Her suit is against Doug Welborn, the clerk himself, alleging he was aware of the alleged behavior of one of his top men, Greg Brown.

“Ms. Lewis is the second person who has come forward to claim that they were the victim of sexual harassment by Mr. Brown and that when they complained about it, or spoke out about it and said, ‘No,’ they were subjected to retaliation and ultimately either forced out, or in her case, fired from their job,” said Craft.

The first lawsuit was very similar. Barbara Bracken, also a former employee, claimed sexual harassment by Brown and says she was eventually terminated because she spoke up. In the current suit, Lewis alleges the harassment started with Brown allegedly telling her, “What I had between my legs drives guys crazy,” said Lewis. “I guess the worst situation was when I was sitting in his office one day and he got an erection while he was talking to me and he opened his legs and told me, ‘Look at what I do to him.’”

KIRAN: What went through your mind at this time?

LEWIS: A plethora of things. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. I felt disrespected. She claimed it eventually escalated to Brown running his fingers down her back and to her butt.

KIRAN: Was any of this consensual?

LEWIS: No. I never went along with any of his advancements.

KIRAN: Did you report any of them?

LEWIS: Yes, I did.

KIRAN: To who?

LEWIS: To my immediate supervisor, Clay Duke.

KIRAN: And what happened?

LEWIS: Absolutely nothing.

According to the lawsuit, Lewis reported Brown in April of 2019. Three months later, she was fired. The reason given was that she violated policy.

“The silly thing about this whole thing is to try to say well, she did something wrong, when in fact, it’s exactly how she had been trained and done her job for nine years,” said Craft. “Her only crime? Standing up for what’s right.”

The 9News Investigators called Welborn, but he directed us to his attorney, Renee Culotta. She issued a statement saying Lewis did not report any allegations of harassment or retaliation while she was employed at the Clerk of Court. Culotta added that after Lewis was informed of her termination, that’s when she “complained of harassment and retaliation.”

According to the lawsuit, Lewis tells WAFB when she did tell her direct supervisor, Clay Duke, three months before she was fired, nothing was done.

“I was never contacted by HR to say that we would like to maybe do an internal investigation towards your claim to your supervisor. Absolutely nothing happened. Clay told me that he definitely believed what I was saying to him because there have been several other women that happened to and then he went further to say, ‘You won’t have to deal with him for that much longer. He’s very close to retiring,’ so I guess I was just supposed to deal with it until he retired,” said Lewis.

But after the 9News Investigators’ first report in late January, Lewis says she was contacted by an attorney for the clerk’s office asking if she would come in to speak to him about the complaint she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

LEWIS: He was in fact the same attorney that had done the investigation into my termination with the company.

KIRAN: Why do you think they came asking to come talk to you after that first interview?

LEWIS: I think the clerk’s office does not like bad press.

“I can say that there are others,” said Craft. “In your reporting, as you know, there were others who came forward at that time as well.”

Several other women, both current and former employees, have told the 9News Investigators they were victims of sexual harassment in the clerk’s office. One of them claimed Welborn himself did the harassment, something he denies. Those women say a group of them went to Welborn in 2013 to tell him about the alleged harassment. One of those women told the 9News Investigators back in January that Welborn allegedly offered to find jobs for their friends.

"He told us that it’s hard for a man to be faithful. Even him, in his own life, it was hard for him to be faithful to his wife,” said a woman whose identity was protected.

That information is now part of the second lawsuit.

Although Welborn did not speak to the 9News Investigators for this report, he did back in January when he gave WAFB permission to use his phone call with Lead Investigator Kiran Chawla.

KIRAN: I have several women who have come forward claiming sexual harassment by you and Greg Brown. Any response to that?

WELBORN: That’s, that’s totally untrue. I would never engage in anything of that nature.

KIRAN: Did you ever have any complaints against Mr. Brown and sexual harassment?

WELBORN: To my recollection, no. I really don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t believe in sexual harassment because I don’t think there’s a place for it in any job.

The 9News Investigators put in a public records request asking for several things. Part of what was received says Welborn and Brown “have attended classes/courses on the topic of sexual harassment sponsored by the Louisiana Clerk of Court Association and provided by the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court’s office to all employees.”

Also requested were any complaints against the duo. That turned up five EEOC complaints; all five claim they were terminated as discrimination because of their age or retaliatory reasons.

“You speak out about it, you tell the truth, you’re accused of being a disgruntled employee that is just upset because you got fired. They don’t want to talk about what you are put through while you are working and nobody should have to go through that at their place of employment,” said Lewis.

In fact, Lewis says just two days after WAFB’s first investigation in January, the Clerk of Court’s human resources department sent out an email saying “all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation” are prohibited and asked any employees if anyone knew of any issues, to come forward and talk to them or their attorney, Renee Culotta. She says they did not get any complaints. Had they, the clerk’s office would have investigated themselves or asked another agency to investigate.

“We get to slap ourselves on the back and say, ‘Aren’t we great because we sent out this email to say we are going to investigate ourselves?' But at the end of the day, whatever investigation occurs is one that is obviously going to be biased and slanted towards yourself,” said Craft.

Craft and Lewis say that’s why employees still working at the Clerk of Court’s office are terrified to speak up. Plus, the two say there’s an audio recording with evidence of Brown’s alleged harassment, but that people are too afraid to come forward with it. Craft says those people would be protected under the law.

“If you provide evidence or information relating to a complaint of sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination in the workplace, the minute you do that, it is protected activity, meaning that if your employer acts against you because you did that, your employer is in big trouble,” said Craft.

For now, Lewis says she’s no longer scared and thankful she’s finally moving forward with a lawsuit.

“It has affected my life. It has affected my livelihood. I no longer have a job that I was hopefully looking to retire from at the age of 55. I have to start over now. I have to worry about what my professional reputation is going to be due to all of this having to come out, but it had to be said. Something had to be said because the organization did nothing about it,” said Lewis.

Culotta says the Clerk of Court takes all claims of harassment seriously and that they have met with employees to reiterate their policies.

Meanwhile, Brown issued a statement denying any wrongdoing:

“I have worked in public service all of my professional life and I worked in the Clerk of Court’s office for the past 17 years. I treat employees fairly based on their qualifications, job performance, and job requirements. I trust the facts in the court case will exonerate me completely."

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