La Plata County has agreed to pay $125,000 to a former employee who claimed county staff ignored complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Bayfield resident Melissa Heath, who used to work for the La Plata County General Services Department, originally filed the complaint in July 2018.
La Plata County commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a $125,000 settlement with Heath.
According to the lawsuit, Heath started working for the county in July 2001 and was promoted to an office manager position in the General Services Department in November 2013.
Around 2016, Heath started to become the target of attacks by a female coworker, who is not identified in the lawsuit.
“We’re talking extremely lewd conduct ... pretty much a daily barrage of just vicious words and actions,” Heath’s lawyer, James McDonough with Downs, McDonough & Cowan LLC told The Durango Herald in April. “And the county had complete knowledge of this ... and did nothing about it.”
McDonough did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
The lawsuit says the employee spread rumors about Heath that she was a thief and called her vulgar names, including a “fat cow, a dirty whore and a dirty (part of female anatomy).” Despite numerous complaints, the county did nothing, and Heath quit her job in February 2017, the lawsuit said.
“She was a longtime employee, she didn’t want to quit,” McDonough said previously. “But she had no other choice.”
La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham said “the county is pleased that this matter is resolved” but declined to comment further, other than to say the employee accused of sexual harassment and discrimination left the county in February 2017.
According to county records, a mediation was held July 1 between La Plata County officials and Heath, leading to the agreed settlement.
The county included $45,000 of the settlement in its 2017 budget, and the county’s insurer will pay $25,000. The remainder, records show, is from other sources.
As part of the settlement, La Plata County is released from any future liability. Heath, for her part, cannot talk about the case, file future complaints or apply for a job at the county.