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Ravell Call, Deseret News
FILE - Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves' chair is empty as he participates by phone during commission meeting in Provo on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. The former Utah County commissioner's lawsuit claims that allegations of sexual harassment made against him were false and distributed to the public with intent to harm him.

PROVO — A former Utah County commissioner is suing the onetime employee who he says falsely accused him of sexual harassment, along with the county leaders who publicly released the allegation in 2017.

Greg Gravesalleges his fellow commissioners sought to damage his reputation when they made the harassment complaint public before releasing a report that found insufficient evidence to support the allegation but concluded he was seen as a bully.

Graves denies wrongdoing in the defamation suit filed Tuesday. He argues his colleagues Nathan Ivie and Bill Lee were seeking a way to remove him from office amid long-simmering political disagreements and contends the employee filed a claim because her job was threatened and she wanted to force a settlement. The suit also names Utah County as a defendant.

Utah County
Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves

In the year and a half since they became public, the allegations have barred Graves from finding meaningful work, harmed his relationship with his family and exacerbated symptoms of a prior brain injury, he alleges. He seeks damages to be determined at trial.

In April 2018,Graves notified the county he intended to sue. His attorney, Ryan Schriever, told the Deseret News at the time that his client believes the county should have kept the records private. Schriever could not be reached for comment Thursday.

An attorney for the county and commissioners called Graves' civil complaint "meritless" but declined to elaborate Thursday. Andrew Morse said he will file a motion refuting Graves' claims and asking a judge to dismiss the suit in coming days.

Ivie said he and Lee "certainly didn't collude together" to force Lee out of office, but declined to answer further questions. Both he and Lee referred comment to Morse.

In December 2017, the two voted in Graves' absence to release the initial complaint against Graves in response to a records request. They turned it over to news reporters that day.

In a prepared statement posted to Facebook the same day, Ivie wrote that multiple employees had filed claims, which Graves disputes. He called for Graves' resignation, a stance echoed by Lee, the Utah County Republican Party, several Utah County legislators and the group Alliance for a Better Utah.

The following day, Graves contends, his colleagues made public a version of the investigative report, redacted of all names, that detailed an allegation that Graves rubbed the female employee's thigh above the knee during an employee golf outing and told her, "Don't show it if you don't want it touched."

His colleagues knew or should have known that the delay in releasing the findings "would portray Graves in a false light in that people would falsely believe he was guilty of sexual harassment," the suit states.

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An outside investigator hired to look into the allegation could not identify any witnesses to corroborate allegations of sexual harassment. However, he did conclude based on interviews with 14 other employees that Graves is "widely viewed as a 'workplace bully,' 'dishonest,' 'demeaning,' 'intimidating,' 'threatening,' explosive' and someone with whom personal interaction is to be avoided as much as possible."

Then-Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman declined to launch a criminal investigation and Graves remained a commissioner until his term concluded at the end of 2018.