State Cabinets Appeal Order To Pay KyCIR’s Legal Fees

Two state cabinets are appealing a judge’s order that they must reimburse the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting for legal costs after withholding public records. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip J. Shepherd ruled this spring that the Labor and Finance and Administration cabinets “willfully” violated open records laws when they refused to release the names of employees accused of sexual harassment, but internal investigations didn’t deem the allegations substantiated. Shepherd ordered the Labor Cabinet to pay more than $17,000, and the Finance and Administration Cabinet to pay more than $19,000, to KyCIR for legal costs and penalties. In a Monday filing, the Labor Cabinet said that Shepherd’s decision to award fees was an “abuse of discretion.” The cabinet argued that it operated in “good faith” in its decision to withhold records, and should not be punished for its interpretation of the law. That cabinet has already turned over the name it previously withheld of a staffer accused of sexual harassment. Court records show that Hector Fonseca was under a court order to stay away from a woman who accused him of domestic violence when a coworker in September 2016 said Fonseca exposed himself and forced her to touch his genitals.

KyCIR Amplify: Jennifer Lynn Dennis, Former Prison Guard

 

Employees from the Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Corrections are only 15 percent of the state government workforce, but they account for half of all the sexual harassment complaints statewide. For her investigation into the high rate of sexual harassment complaints at state prisons, KyCIR’s Eleanor Klibanoff spoke with current and former prison guards, who told her that sexual harassment is often a part of the job. Jennifer Lynn Dennis, a former prison guard at the Little Sandy Correctional Complex in eastern Kentucky, said sexual harassment caused her to quit her job. 

Along with three other women, Dennis sued the Department of Corrections and Sergeant Stephen Harper and won. A jury awarded them $1.6 million, which the state is appealing. Listen to Dennis in her own words in the sound player. Harper did not respond to request for comment for this investigation.