City seeks dismissal of harassment suit

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2005

An attorney representing the city is requesting dismissal of a lawsuit from a former harbors employee seeking at least $350,000 for alleged sexual discrimination and harassment.

Former office staffer and seasonal security worker Elizabeth Leisure filed the suit in December, alleging she was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against because of her sex. Her attorney, Douglas Mertz, wrote that Leisure and other women in the department "were subjected to a pervasive and serious atmosphere of sexual innuendo, sexual jokes and a hostile environment based on gender and sex."

In her written response to the suit for the city, attorney Deborah A. Holbrook generally denied the claims, argued that Leisure's attorney failed to state a claim that could be granted under Alaska law and asked that the suit be dismissed.

She also asks for Leisure to pick up the city's legal costs.

The suit alleges misconduct by former Harbormaster Chuck Wescott, who has since moved out of state. Wescott is not named as a defendant in the action.

Reached Wednesday at his current home in Reedsport, Ore., Wescott denied that any of the allegations were true.

"None of that ever happened," he said. "It's all cooked up."

Wescott specifically denied a charge in the suit that alleged he downloaded and distributed pornography in the harbors office.

"I've never been on a pornographic (Web) site in my life," he said.

Noting that he had grandchildren Leisure's age, he added that he lived in Juneau for about 30 years, and during that time was the co-owner of the Chevrolet dealership. He has never had any female employees claim he sexually harassed them, he said.

One allegation in the suit claims Wescott discriminated against Leisure by not rehiring her to a seasonal security position. Wescott said the decision was based on her attendance record.

Holbrook specifically denied Leisure's allegation that the harbors department under Wescott subjected Leisure and other women to an atmosphere of sexual innuendo. The attorney also denied allegations of specific actions by Wescott.

Additionally, Holbrook wrote, the city could not be held liable for the alleged actions because they "do not represent an official policy or custom of the city and borough of Juneau." She noted that the city has a "highly visible written policy expressly forbidding sexual discrimination and sexual harassment."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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