Federal jury rules that former Huntington municipal court clerk was sexually harassed

Published: Jun. 2, 2014 at 3:14 PM CDT
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Former Huntington City Manager Bruce Milstead (Source: KTRE Staff)
Former Huntington City Manager Bruce Milstead (Source: KTRE Staff)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A federal jury ruled on May 29 that a former Huntington municipal court clerk was sexually harassed by the city's former administrator Bruce Milstead. The city will be required to pay a settlement of $5,000.

According to the verdict form, the jury determined that the plaintiff, Deadra Lynn Combs, proved that Milstead had indeed sexually harassed her. They also decided that the City of Huntington did not prove that "it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior."

However, the jury also ruled Combs failed to prove that she was fired from her municipal court clerk position because she rejected a sexual advance from Milstead. In addition, they found that there was no proof that she wouldn't have been fired if she hadn't filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

According to the verdict, the City of Huntington will be required to pay a settlement of $5,000 for "past pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life."

In the petition of her lawsuit, Combs claimed "sever and pervasive sexual" conduct by Milstead. The lawsuit was filed with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on Dec. 11, 2013 after Combs received notice from the Department of Justice that stated she had the right to file the lawsuit.

Initially, Combs filed a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC.

"It's astonishing to me that this kind of behavior is acceptable," Milstead said in a previous East Texas News story. "This is an absolutely bogus lawsuit, and it has no grounds whatsoever. Like anything else, it will be handled by the courts."

In the lawsuit's complaint, Combs alleges that Milstead discriminated against her by creating "a sexually hostile work place" and that his behavior affected her work performance.

"Specifically, Bruce Milstead's severe and pervasive conduct caused plaintiff to avoid him and be less productive in her job duties," the complaint states.

The lawsuit claimed that after Combs rejected Milstead's advances, she went to her direct supervisor, Betsy Gregson, and told her about the city administrator's behavior. She then filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Combs was fired from her position as the municipal court clerk within a week of when the City of Huntington was notified about her EEOC complaint.

"Defendant did not exercise reasonable care to prevent and cure allegations of sexual harassment," the lawsuit alleges. "Defendant ratified the wrongful conduct by failing to take appropriate remedial action after becoming aware of the conduct."

The lawsuit sought unspecified damages for lost income, money spent in seeking other employment, damages to Comb's pension or retirement benefits, mental anguish "in the form of lost sleep, anxiety, and depression," legal fees, and "all other relief the court deems appropriate."

Milstead said Combs was terminated from her job as the municipal court clerk because her work performance didn't meet the city's standards.

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