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Wood County officials file response to Matheny lawsuit

PARKERSBURG — Last week, the Wood County Commission filed a response to former sergeant Della Matheny’s Oct. 22 lawsuit against the commission, Sheriff Steve Stephens and the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, requesting either the suit’s dismissal or a jury trial.

After the law firm Bailey and Wyant, of Charleston, investigated the formal complaint filed by deputy Tasha Hewitt in March 2020, Matheny said in her lawsuit that the investigator “recommended that defendant Wood County Commission conduct sexual harassment training for its employees,” and the lawsuit alleges the county commission “never conducted comprehensive sexual harassment training as recommended.”

In the response, the commission denies Matheny’s statement saying it failed to conduct the training; the response said “it was recommended that an outside firm be hired.”

The report from Bailey and Wyant obtained from another news source said the sexual harassment and hostile work environment training should be conducted by an outside firm and that it should “be mandatory for every employee to attend.”

The commission denied statements in Matheny’s lawsuit which stated it was “responsible for the oversight of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department and the oversight and employment of Sheriff Stephens,” and that the county commission “shared and/or co-determined the matters governing the essential terms and conditions of (Matheny’s) employment.”

In the response, the commission denied it “had any right to take employment action with respect to (Matheny) who is employed by an elected official.”

Following the Bailey and Wyant investigation, Matheny’s suit said because of the commissions’ “inaction” in regard to sexual harassment training, the “hostile work environment” was continued but in the response, the commission said it does not “control or have the authority to control the conduct of elected official.”

Other than providing funding for the sheriff’s department employees’ salaries, the commission said in its response that it “had no expectations of (Matheny) as an employee of an elected official,” and didn’t know whether or not she “performed her job duties in a satisfactory manner,” as stated in Matheny’s lawsuit.

The response also said the county commission does not know whether or not Matheny was forced to quit, which she said in her lawsuit was because of the “hostile work environment created by Sheriff Stephens and the inaction of defendant Wood County Commission.”

Several of Matheny’s allegations in her lawsuit did not involve the county commission but in the response, the commission asks for proof for some of her allegations including Hewitt and Sgt. Tim Allen telling Stephens of their relationship, Stephens’ “angry” reaction to their relationship, his usage of “gender specific derogatory terms” toward Hewitt and Stephens sending Allen to the state police academy for 16 weeks of training to “break up their little family.”

In regard to Matheny’s allegations of Stephens treating her differently after her involvement in the Bailey and Wyant investigation, his micro-management and maintaining an “intolerable” work environment, the commission said it does not have enough evidence to confirm or deny those claims.

The commission named 20 defenses in the response and said Matheny’s suit “fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and should, therefore, be dismissed,” and that Matheny “is not factually, legally or equitably entitled to the relief prayed for.”

One of the defenses says Matheny’s suit does not constitute a private cause of action against the commission, that Matheny “failed to exhaust administrative remedies,” and says the commission “breached no duty; created no hostile environment or unwelcome activity.”

The response also said Matheny’s “damages, if any, were caused in whole or in part by (Matheny’s) own conduct or the conduct of the third parties.”

The commission demanded a trial by jury “on all issues so triable,” and prayed that Matheny’s complaint be “dismissed and held for naught.”

Commission President Blair Couch said he could not comment on pending litigation and Matheny’s attorney, Todd Bailess of Bailess Law Firm, could not be reached for comment.

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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