Former jail worker says supervisors retaliated against her

By Christopher Williams, Sun Journal
Posted Oct. 25, 2011, at 5:11 a.m.

AUBURN, Maine — A former corrections officer at Androscoggin County Jail testified Monday that superior officers retaliated against her after she supported harassment claims against a former supervisor.

Lisa Levesque of Buckfield said in Androscoggin County Superior Court that she had been feeling happy and secure working as a recreation officer in the spring of 2008 when things started to go wrong after she had talked to an investigating detective from the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department. She told him that former Sgt. Kevin Harmon had harassed women on the job and had written a statement critical of her former supervisor.

She heard that Harmon might be transferred back to days from the night shift. He had been moved to nights after a two-week suspension for harassment. Levesque said she was “devastated” about the possibility that Harmon might be her supervisor again. She had hated going to work when he had been her supervising officer, she said.

“It was torture every day,” she said. He made her feel so anxious and she had sought medical treatment for anxiety and depression.

He would call her “princess,” or “she,” but never by her name, she said. He made disparaging remarks about her physique, she said. He asked her “on numerous occasions” if she engaged in certain sex acts, she said. When she was pregnant, he made disparaging remarks, also, she said.

“It made me feel horrible,” she said. “It was degrading.”

She talked to the jail’s head supervisor, who told her that she could “move on” if she didn’t want Harmon to come back on the day shift, she said. She wrote twice to Sheriff Guy Desjardins in the spring of 2009 urging him to block Harmon’s possible transfer back to days, saying she feared retaliation. He responded saying his office had “zero tolerance” for harassment on the job.

The retaliation she had feared continued after her written statement about Harmon went to investigators, she said. It wasn’t Harmon, but other supervisors who kept after her, she said.

After complaining about Harmon, Levesque said she was written up twice for reportedly violating jail policies. She wrote letters of rebuttal, arguing she hadn’t taken any action contrary to jail protocols involving supervision of prisoners.

She complained to superiors that she believed she was the target of retaliatory efforts. No investigation resulted, she said.

“I was baffled,” she said. “I was upset. I cried every evening.”

She was stripped of her position on disciplinary boards, wasn’t allowed to fill in for the canteen officer anymore and was shunned by the supervising officers, she said.

“I felt alienated,” she said.

She was even told to move her car from the space she had parked many times before outside the jail, she said.

Levesque was the third witness called Monday, the first day of her trial. She is suing the county for retaliating against her because she opposed Harmon’s transfer back to the day shift, a protected activity under the Maine Human Rights Act.

Two other claims in her complaint were dismissed at an earlier hearing by Justice MaryGay Kennedy.

The first witness of the trial, Androscoggin County Sgt. Detective William Gagnon testified about his investigation into complaints against Harmon.

Susan Graham, a former jail supervisor, testified she had witnessed Harmon’s harassment of Levesque as well as other women at the jail. She said he threatened to make miserable the lives of people he didn’t like or who didn’t agree with him. The jail operated on the “good-old-boy” system and male supervisors, including Harmon, teamed up to do the bidding of others in the network, Graham said.

Former jail worker Lisa Webster was subjected to Harmon’s harassment, which triggered the county’s internal investigation, Graham said.

“He continued to badger this girl until she would be in tears,” Graham said. She blew the whistle on Harmon’s treatment of Webster, she said, telling him to back off and complaining to his supervisors.

Webster, who later also sued the county, settled her three-year-old case in February. Another former female corrections worker also filed suit against the county on similar grounds.

Levesque’s suit is expected to continue through the week.

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http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/25/news/lewiston-auburn/former-jail-worker-says-supervisors-retaliated-against-her/ printed on September 21, 2014