By Mary Drier
It wasn’t a trick and it certainly wasn’t a treat when Tuscola County Commissioners were informed Oct. 31 of a lawsuit against the county by a former employee pertaining to an alleged romantic affair with a former county judge.
During a closed session at that meeting, Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority attorney Laura Amtsbuerhler informed commissioners a lawsuit was going to be filed.
On Nov. 4, Attorney Victor Mastromarco, Saginaw, filed a lawsuit in United States District Court – Eastern District of Michigan in Bay City on behalf of former employee Kerri Zelmer against the county, former Tuscola County Probate Judge W. Wallace Kent, Jr., and Tuscola County Probate Court.
Zelmer started working for the county May 25, 1995, as the probate register to Kent’s court. She resigned on Oct. 1, 2010.
Through this lawsuit, Zelmer and her attorney are requesting a trial and seeking at least $75,000 compensation.
Count one of the federal case charges: violations of the equal protection act. The charge claims Kent, “intentionally, arbitrarily, and irrationally discriminated against (Zelmer) by requiring her to submit to the sexual relationship with Judge Kent and when she refused to divorce her husband and discontinued the affair, she was forced to resign under threat of termination.”
The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment protects citizens from irrational and arbitrary governmental behavior and also prohibits discrimination based on gender.
Count two charges: sexual harassment in violation of the Title VII and the Michigan Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act.
The suit claims Kent asserted sexual harassment quid pro quo, and sexual harassment based on hostile work environment, that his sexual advances were “unwelcome;” as Zelmer’s supervisor had authority over her. Also, that Zelmer’s “acceptance or rejection of the conduct of Judge Kent was an express implied condition of her continued employment.”
Part of the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act of 1976 that the suit refers to: prohibits discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.
The details of the lawsuit contend that: on June 25, 2010, Kent asked Zelmer to come to his home “under the pretenses of returning the county credit card during the afternoon hours.” During that visit “Kent attempted to extract a quid pro quo sexual relationship (with Zelmer) which culminated in a sexual relationship, and various demands for sexual favors and sexual acts.” Also, that “Kent insisted on a sexual relationship and made repeated promises that the relationship would not affect (her) job.”
The following is a timeline in court records: on Sept. 12, 2010, Kent told Zelmer his wife discovered the relationship.
On Sept. 14, 2010, Kent told her he was going to make an announcement to court staff on their sexual relationship, and did that on Sept. 15, 2010.
Then, Sept. 16-17, 2010, Kent announced the relationship to several at a judicial conference he attended.
On Sept. 17, 2010, Kent told Zelmer the Probate Court Administrator she would have to step down from her position.
On Sept. 19, 2010, Kent told Zelmer “she had to either ‘resign or be fired.’”
The court record said that Zelmer “was subjected to quid pro quo requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct” by Kent, or “communications of a sexual nature, whereby submission to the conduct or communication was made a term or condition either explicitly or implicitly for continued employment. Also, that she was subjected to a “hostile environment and harassment.”
Tuscola County officials declined to comment on this pending litigation and said the county has not been formally given a copy of the lawsuit as of Tuesday.
By Mary Drier