MONTICELLO - Despite detailed allegations of sexual harassment contained in the testimony of two subordinates, a long-serving sergeant in Sullivan County's Jail Division filed a lawsuit this week against Sheriff Michael Schiff and Sullivan County seeking reinstatement to his position.
Schiff terminated the sergeant in a memo dated March 19, 2021.
Gerald C. Minckler, Jr. the former sergeant who had been employed by the County since 1996, filed the suit in State Supreme Court / Sullivan County this week.
But his lawyers filed voluminous documents this week that include on-the-record testimony from two female deputies in the Jail Division who were the targets of Minckler's actions. The deputies are Jill Fries and Kellie McMahon.
Minckler's attorneys argue in their suit that Minckler should have been allowed to resign instead of being terminated.
In a memorandum of law filed on July 19, Minckler's attorneys wrote:
"Based on the facts and the arguments below, we submit that Petitioner's termination is shocking to one's sense of fairness, not supported by substantial evidence, and HO Quigley's recommendation and Respondent Sheriff's determination are arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and not supported by the record."
But during a hearing before designated hearing officer Laura Q. Quigley (Sullivan County's Commissioner of Community Services) held in January 2021, Fries testified that Minckler had showed up unannounced at her residence and grabbed her breast.
Fries testified that the home was owned by her boyfriend, Eric Coulter. She testified that Minckler, in plainclothes, was visibly drunk and was wearing his service revolver that was not concealed. Minckler had previously done some repair work on Coulter's shed - and Fries testified that she assumed that her boss showed up regarding that repair work.
Regarding the incident at Fries' home, Quigley wrote in her February 2021 report after that hearing:
"While employed by the County of Sullivan at Sullivan County Jail, Monticello, New York, as a Corrections Sergeant, you violated the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office Rules and Regulations and Code of Conduct, Section A-6 which provides that a member shall not knowingly or willfully violate any law of the United States, the State of New York, any other State or an ordinance of a community within a State. Specifically on or about summer of 2016, you violated section 130.52 of the Penal Law of the State of New York; Forcible Touching a Class A Misdemeanor when you intentionally and for no legitimate purpose forcibly touched the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person or for the purpose of gratifying the actor's sexual desire when you appeared at the home of a subordinate employee, Jill Fries, and grabbed her breast stating in sum and substance that you wanted to see if they were real. Finding: Founded."
Quigley concluded her report to Schiff as follows:
"I find both Ms. Fries and Ms. McMahon to have provided credible testimony. Ms. Fries came forward because she could not take the stress any longer and Ms. McMahon was actually approached by the County. Filing these complaints was clearly not an easy decision for either woman. The challenges of dealing with a superior ranking officer who was sexually harassing them while they tried to find ways to work around him so they could perform their job duties was clearly demonstrated. Their discomfort and fear of retaliation was evident during their testimony. While each may not have been clear on the all the specifies of time and date, they we both quite clear on the harassments/assaults. Ms. McMahon even kept contemporaneous notes in her datebook of some interactions with Mr. Minckler. Mr. Minckler's attorney, Mr. Grogan, claimed that the sexual harassment charges do not meet the NYS standard of "severe and pervasive". However, that standard was removed in August 2019 and is no longer applicable. In addition, there is no requirement in misdemeanor assault that the injury require treatment or be lasting. Mr. Minckler has been through trainings and has received the appropriate policies that address sexual harassment. He may perform his job functions well and may have many co-workers that like and appreciate him but he targeted both of these women and that cannot be tolerated. It is my recommendation that he be terminated. There are no gains for these women outside of stopping the harassment. They must return to an environment that is military style in structure and male dominated. I have concerns that that these two women may be targeted for retaliation. I ask that steps are taken to improve the working environment and ensure that does not happen."
County Attorney Michael McGuire is also quoted extensively in the transcript of the hearing, that is contained in an exhibit of the lawsuit.
As part of his opening statements during the hearing, McGuire stated: :
"Where can sexual harassment occur? Unlawful sexual harassment is not limited to the physical workplace. It can occur while employees are traveling for business or at employer sponsored events or parties. Calls, texts, e-mails, social media usage can constitute and contribute to unlawful workplace harassment, even if it occurs away from the workplace premises or not even during work hours. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and is unlawful under Federal, State and, where applicable, local law."
The SullivanTimes today reached out to Minckler's attorneys for additional comments about the case.