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Dumbeck sued

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:52 PM

The woman who alleged she was denied multiple promotions because of sexual discrimination at the department of job and family services has sued the agency and its outgoing director.

Nichole Baker, who began as a file clerk at the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS) Jan. 12, 2004, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the department, the Huron County Commissioners, department director Erich Dumbeck and human resources administrator Bonnie Richards. Baker claims she was passed over for five promotions and has suffered discrimination at work because of "Dumbeck's infatuation with her," according to the complaint.

Baker alleges that between January 2004 and January 2007 Dumbeck did the following:

"Made unwelcome physical contact ... including but not limited to touching (Baker) on the hips, shoulders and back."

"Made an unwelcome advance toward (Baker) in at a bar in Norwalk."

Sought out Baker's company, both at work and at home, and called her cell phone.

Made suggestive comments to Baker and brought her gifts.

Dumbeck could not be reached for comment, but has in the past declined to speak about Baker's allegations. Dumbeck announced last week that he will be resigning as director of HCDJFS June 1.

The suit states that Dumbeck was married with two children at the time the "unwanted" contact began, and Baker was a single mother of one in a relationship with a single man.

The complaint contends Baker made attempts to remedy the situation in 2004, contacting her union and Richards about the situation. The union did not file a grievance or take another action, and the complaint claims Richards "told (Baker) she was responsible for Defendant Dumbeck's conduct and that (Baker) was 'flattered' to have attention from a powerful man."

Following those attempts, the complaint maintains two anonymous letters were sent to the commissioners later that year stating Dumbeck was "'having an affair with an employee of this agency' and that the affair 'had not been discrete and is causing many problems.'"

Baker said the unwanted behavior continued and, after her fifth failure to obtain a promotion in October 2006, she filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment and hostile work environment with the Huron County Commissioners.

The board assigned its EEO Officer Lynn Chapin to investigate the claim. Chapin found that the decisions to not promote Baker were not related to her relationship with Dumbeck, though Chapin did find that Dumbeck was contacting Baker in a manner Baker found unneeded and undesired.

Baker said she has been discriminated against and is disliked at HCDJFS either for complaining about Dumbeck or for his attention to her, the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint further states that Baker suffered lost wages and opportunity to advance; loss of future earnings and reputation; humiliation, embarrassment and loss of self-esteem; and adverse health effects.

"Dumbeck knew or should have known that his continued inappropriate efforts to establish an intimate relationship with (Baker) caused her serious emotional distress," the complaint states, going on to say his treatment of her was "so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond the bounds of decency and would be considered intolerable by an reasonable person in a civilized community."

Baker has requested the court order the agency to promote her with backpay to the position she failed to get in October 2006, and compensate her for adverse emotional and health effects in addition to a request for punitive damages from Dumbeck and Richards.

Commissioner Mike Adelman said he could not comment directly on the lawsuit, but did say the commissioners stood by Chapin's finding that Baker's claims were unsubstantiated. He said the lawsuit was likely prompted by the board's decision.

"I'm sure she was less than pleased with that," he said.

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