Bill Appleby of emergency management faces a harassment complaint, which the county calls retaliatory.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 29, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County Emergency Management officer Bill Appleby, already besieged by several grievances, faces another accusation by a disgruntled employee.
Technician Sue Tolbert, who recently accepted a transfer to the Public Works department, has filed a sexual harassment complaint against Appleby with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"I have been subjected to various acts of sex discrimination and sexual harassment," Tolbert wrote in her filing, dated Oct. 31. "After reporting the harassment, several retaliatory actions have been taken against me including a suspension, with pay, on 10/12/01 which was subsequently changed to a written warning with a six-month evaluation period."
She states that Appleby said she was suspended for insubordination and contends that she actually was discriminated against because of her gender and "because I opposed an employment practice made unlawful" by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The complaint included no further details. Tolbert did outline the specifics in a Sept. 20 letter to the county personnel office.
In the letter, she said that Appleby made comments of a sexual nature to her, and inappropriately touched, hugged and attempted to grope and kiss her. Also, she wrote, Appleby showed a picture of a baby boy with oversized genitals, and said it was a picture of himself and that he "grew into it."
Responding to the complaint for the county, personnel director Barbara Dupre wrote that Hernando County denies all allegations of sexual harassment or sexual discrimination by Appleby, or retaliatory actions against Tolbert.
Dupre noted that Appleby counseled Tolbert about her attitude on Aug. 31, and that her past three annual evaluations listed a need to improve her interpersonal skills.
It wasn't until after the August counseling that Tolbert filed a complaint regarding a hostile work environment, Dupre wrote. In that complaint, Tolbert wrote that she was responding to an Aug. 31 memo from Appleby, which Dupre suggested revealed that Tolbert was retaliating against Appleby for telling her to attend anger management sessions.
"In this letter, she also states that she has had no other negative correspondence in her personnel file, which is untrue," Dupre wrote. "She has been previously counseled for distributing derogatory, racial material."
Dupre wrote that her department staff investigated the complaint. During that time, Dupre wrote, Tolbert said she never told Appleby of her discomfort with his putting his arm around her at the office. Tolbert also said it had not occurred recently, Dupre wrote.
The incident with the baby picture took place about 18 months earlier, Dupre continued. It was outside the workplace, she wrote, and Appleby handed the picture to Tolbert's husband.
"I asked her if she was so upset by it at the time, why she had not mentioned anything to (Appleby) or anyone else," Dupre wrote. "She had no response other than to briefly mention a previous time when she had made an allegation against another employee of sexual harassment."
Further review uncovered that Tolbert's past allegation was dropped as unfounded, Dupre wrote.
Dupre concluded by stating that Tolbert's October suspension (which ultimately was rescinded in favor of paid administrative leave and a written reprimand), resulted from Tolbert's refusal to follow Appleby's direction after an anthrax scare. Tolbert has denied doing anything improper during that Oct. 11 event.
"Since Mr. Appleby has been her supervisor, Ms. Tolbert has received above average evaluations and in fact been given a supplemental pay increase at the request of her supervisor," Dupre wrote. "She has had no adverse action taken against her at all by Mr. Appleby or any other employee of Hernando County. It is in fact Ms. Tolbert who appears to be retaliating against her supervisor after he suggested that she might benefit from anger management counseling."
The EEOC has yet to render its opinion in this case. Dupre said the federal commission cannot take any binding action against the county, even if it disagrees with the county response.
The county answered the complaint because not responding would lead to a finding against the county, which might encourage future legal action, Dupre said. The county has not had an EEOC complaint in about three years.
The emergency management staff remains in counseling, at the direction of County Administrator Paul McIntosh. If the employees cannot work as a team, McIntosh has said, more transfers are likely. A review is due in the spring.
-- Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.