Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

$391,250 Awarded in Harassment Suit

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

$391,250 Awarded in Harassment Suit

Article excerpt

A former Wentzville police dispatcher won a $391,250 jury award Thursday on her claim that sex discrimination and harassment made her job unbearable.

Debi Hellebusch claims that from the time she joined the Wentzville Police Department as a dispatcher in 1989, through two promotions, a demotion and her eventual resignation in 1994, she was called vulgar and sexually crude names by her supervisors and Wentzville's former mayor, Darrell Lackey. When she complained, her suit says, she was punished and fo rced to quit.

Lackey has denied those allegations. The suit, which went to trial Monday, names the city of Wentzville as the sole defendant. Final arguments took place Thursday. Jurors deliberated for four hours before finding in favor of Hellebusch on her three main allegations - that she was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her gender, that when she complained the city retaliated against her and that she was forced to quit when the department demoted her to the midnight shift. The city of Wentzville's lawyer, Robert J. Isaacson, declined to discuss the jury award or whether the city would appeal. Isaacson told jurors during his closing arguments that Hellebusch's allegations were part of a "political war" against Lackey. Hellebusch, 39, said after the trial that she was grateful the jurors recognized the discrimination. "Somebody believed me, that I was not a disobedient employee," Hellebusch said. Hellebusch claims that the harassment and discrimination began from the start of her tenure with the police department. Although she had passed the necessary training to become a police officer, Lackey refused to make her an officer, her suit claims. Instead, Hellebusch went to work as a Wentzville police dispatcher in 1989. In 1991, she was promoted to chief of communications and in 1992 she became director of support services. Throughout this time, however, she said she was aware that supervisors and even the mayor were referring to her in derogatory terms. Her suit claims the mayor used those terms in describing her to city aldermen. (Lackey was defeated in his re-election effort last April. …

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