Court rules ex-police officer’s alleged sexual harassment was 'boorish' but not illegal

Tina Silvers
Tina Silvers

A former Clay Twp. police officer who alleged sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress against her superiors had an appeal in her case denied on Friday, as the court ruled the alleged actions weren’t severe enough to warrant court action.

Tina Silvers’ claims of sexual harassment and other wrongdoing were denied by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose. Rose remanded state issues to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to hear charges made by Silvers against Clay Twp. police Chief John VanGundy and then-Lt. Anthony Scott.

Judge Timothy O’Connell also granted summary judgment to Clay Twp. on all remaining counts, and Silvers appealed that ruling to the Second District Court of Appeals, which decided in the township’s favor in a Friday ruling.

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The ruling authored by Judge Jeffrey Froelich and concurred with by Judges Jeffrey Welbaum and Michael Tucker said the court agreed with O’Connell, who quoted Rose’s ruling that, even if defendants’ comments were crass or crude, “Considering all the incidents (Silvers) describes as allegations of sexual harassment, they simply do not rise to the level of severe or pervasive necessary to succeed on a cause of action.”

Silvers’ attorney, Gregory Turner, said his client was disappointed and that he felt the evidence was strong enough to at least go to trial.

“I believe most people in the United States think that supervisors and coworkers must be very careful to avoid claims of sexual harassment, but when one looks at the conduct allowed in this case, both the employer and the courts seem to tolerate what we believe what most people would consider outrageous,” he said.

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Dawn Frick, an attorney representing Clay Twp., said she believes all three courts made the proper conclusion.

“It is important to point out that this decision only discusses Ms. Silvers’ version of the facts without determining whether those facts are actually what occurred at Clay Township,” Frick said.

Silvers’ allegations — some disputed by Clay Twp. attorneys — included:

• A March 2013 incident in which she told her superiors she was urinating blood and was allegedly asked by Scott, “Are you sure it’s not your monthly?” and repeating, “My name is Tina and my (vagina) hurts.”

• A summer 2013 incident in which Scott questioned Silvers’ personal hygiene and if that was the “funk” he smelled.

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• That Scott inquired about Silvers’ weight loss after Silvers’ sister had died of cancer by asking, “What’s the matter, do you have cancer or something?”

• Other incidents during which Silvers claims she was sworn at or mistreated while performing her job.

Silvers didn’t report the behavior to township trustees and claims she was denied the opportunity to do so. Silvers was terminated from her position on Sept. 18, 2013.

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Rose wrote that “while exceedingly boorish,” comments about Silvers’ weight loss were not linked to gender and neither were “crass metaphors” about hygiene.

The ruling quotes the Ohio Supreme Court, which has explained: “The rough edges of our society are still in need of a good deal of filing down, and in the meantime plaintiffs must necessarily be expected and required to be hardened to a certain amount of rough language, and to occasional acts that are definitely inconsiderate and unkind. There is no occasion for the law to intervene in every case where someone’s feelings are hurt.”

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