Updated: County Insurance Paid $350K Settlement for Complaint of Harassment, Retaliation in Superior Court

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

The Washington Counties Risk Pool paid out $350,000 in May 2017 to settle a claim of a hostile workplace, retaliation and nine years of sexual harassment in Lewis County Superior Court.

The Chronicle obtained documents related to the settlement through a public records request, which was filled Thursday after a hearing in Cowlitz County Superior Court.

 Court Orders Release of $350K Settlement for Harassment Complaint Against Judge, With Redactions

The original tort claim was filed in December 2016 by former Lewis County Drug Court Manager Jennifer Soper, and asked for $800,000 in damages.

A few months later, Soper and attorney Stephanie Stocker provided the county with a draft complaint, a document filed as part of a lawsuit, listing as defendants Lewis County and Lewis County Superior Court.

In the document, she accused the county of wrongful termination, detailed instances in which she felt harassed by an employee whose mental health she was concerned about, and claimed retaliation after complaining about child abuse that she felt was not properly addressed in Family Recovery Court, a kind of court designed to reunify families and their children.

 Prosecutors: Records in Sexual Harassment Settlement Involving Judge Should Be Released in Full

She also accuses former Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt, who oversaw the county’s drug court program, of sexually harassing her over a period of nine years.

“In 2007, Hunt met with Plaintiff Soper in his chambers, closed his office door and asked her, ‘Did you know there is erotica in the Bible?’ He then read the full Song of Solomon to Plaintiff Soper, which includes graphic sexual language and imagery,” the complaint reads.

Hunt spoke to The Chronicle about the allegations Thursday.

“I have only one response and there was no sexual harassment at all. I deny there being any,” Hunt said.

Soper also accuses Hunt of engaging in “sexually charged” communications at work, including on more than one occasion, Hunt telling Soper he was “good at oral sex.”

 Employee Alleged 9 Years of Sexual Harassment by Judge in Claim Settled Out of Court

She accuses Hunt of openly discussing the attractiveness of people in his courtroom, including attorneys, and said he suggested she should wear a wig.

In another incident, Soper reported she and Hunt were traveling on county business and staying in the same hotel. Hunt allegedly called her into his room while wearing only a swimsuit and undershirt, with underwear lying on the floor, according to the unfiled complaint.

Soper reported the incident to Lewis County Court Commissioner Tracy Mitchell, according to the complaint.

 Employee Alleged 9 Years of Sexual Harassment by Judge in Claim Settled Out of Court

“Plaintiff Soper was a single parent and was the financial support to her three then middle-school-age children and ailing parents,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiff Soper had no choice but to endure Hunt’s workplace behavior in order to keep her job.”

Hunt said he was not in favor of settling the claim, and was prepared to go to court to defend himself.

“My opinion counted for nothing … it actually counted for less than nothing,” he said. “This one is different than most cases. The parties always have the opportunity to turn down any offer to settle, but in this case the decision was made by the insurance adjusters for the county.”

Hunt said he did not take part in settlement discussions.

Soper asserts in the complaint, which was never filed, that she reported several of the incidents but the harassment continued.

She also levels accusations against former Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey for regularly calling her derogatory names.

“Beginning in 2007 and continuing through her constructive discharge on June 20, 2016, Brosey frequently referred directly to Plaintiff Soper openly in the workplace as ‘b-tch,’ using a derogatory tone, and/or around other subordinate employees of he and Plaintiff Soper,” the unfiled complaint states.

Another former Lewis County employee, Janet Gordon, has filed a lawsuit against the county including similar allegations against Brosey.

Soper’s complaint, spanning 34 pages, also accuses the county of retaliating against her when she voiced concern that Child Protective Services were placing children with abusive parents as part of Lewis County’s Family Recovery Court.

“Plaintiff Soper became a target of Department of Children and Family Services for personal and professional attacks on her reputation,” the complaint states.

She also alleges that the county failed to take her seriously when she raised concerns about the mental health of the Drug Court Compliance Officer and complained of “stalking.”

The complaint alleges that Soper was demoted after continuing to raise concerns. She continued to ask for an investigation into the staff member, but says no such investigation was done.

On June 20, after taking sick leave, Soper resigned, or was “constructively discharged,” according to the complaint.

According to Hunt, witnesses contradicted Soper and her attorney’s statements.

“The charges are and will remain unsubstantiated,” he said.

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Read the full court documents below. Reader discretion is advised as the court documents include lewd and potentially offensive language.