A 1988 lawsuit charging the former Davis County health department director with sexual harassment has been settled out of court for $30,000.
The settlement, with $5,400 going to the woman who filed the suit and $24,600 to her attorney, was approved Monday by the county commissioners. The settlement, said deputy county attorney Jerry Hess, is to rid the county of a nuisance and is not based on the suit's merits.Former county employee Julie Vicknair filed the lawsuit in late 1988 in federal court, charging that former health department director Enrico Leopardi sexually harassed her. Vicknair was a secretary in the department, handling Leopardi's correspondence and letters.
The suit charges that when she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the the county in January 1988, she was first transferred to the county planning department, then to the employment and training office in the county's human services department.
She was not properly trained for those jobs, Vicknair said in her suit, and the transfers were a retaliation designed to ultimately force her out of county employment. Vicknair quit her final job in May 1988.
The suit named county personnel director Steve Baker as well as the county commissioners, asking for $60,000 to $65,000 in direct damages for lost earnings and an undetermined amount for emotional distress. The suit included seven causes of action against the county.
Hess said the suit may have been a contributing factor in Leopardi's leaving the county last year. "It was a devastating thing emotionally to him," Hess said of the lawsuit.
The director first announced his retirement in May 1990, then rescinded his announcement two weeks later, charging the county commissioners coerced him into retiring.
Leopardi announced his retirement again later in the year. His retirement was effective Dec. 31, but he left the county in October, using accumulated vacation and leave time.
The settlement agreement was offered by Vicknair's attorney, Gary D'Elia, Jan. 28 when he offered to cut his attorney fees by 40 percent to $18,600, according to Hess. The additional $6,000 to D'Elia is to cover court costs, deposition costs and witness fees, Hess said."It's a terrible thing when you have to recommend settling a case because of the fear of attorney fees," Hess said. But if Vicknair had won even one of her causes of action against the county, the attorney fees alone could be $100,000 to $200,000, Hess said.
"You never know what can happen when you get a jury in there. We continue to hold that there was no sexual harassment and that the claims are without foundation," said Hess.
"But if it had gone to trial, you're never sure how you'll come out on all seven of the claims, potentially exposing the county to a large sum for attorney fees.
"It's too difficult to predict what a jury might do, how it would react to the accusations and especially the personalities involved," Hess said.
The three commissioners reluctantly agreed to the settlement, with commission chairman Gayle Stevenson saying he "is not happy with it, but I believe it is in the best interest of the taxpayers of the county and the preservation of tax dollars."