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St. Louis County Board to vote on settling sexual harassment suit for $65,000 | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Published June 04, 2013, 12:00 AM

St. Louis County Board to vote on settling sexual harassment suit for $65,000

St. Louis County commissioners are scheduled today to approve a $65,000 payment to a former administrative secretary who alleges years of sexual harassment by former commissioner Dennis Fink.

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

St. Louis County commissioners are scheduled today to approve a $65,000 payment to a former administrative secretary who alleges years of sexual harassment by former commissioner Dennis Fink.

The board is expected to approve the settlement with Betty Sislo of Duluth, who came forward in 2007 to allege Fink had sexually harassed her while she served as his secretary from 1997 to 2007.

The settlement has been recommended to the board by County Attorney Mark Rubin to settle the case filed in federal district court in December. The deal was reached in a settlement conference with federal Magistrate Leo Brisbois.

Fink, who represented central Duluth, was first elected in 1996 and served until he was defeated in November 2010 by current Commissioner Frank Jewell.

Sislo first filed a complaint in 2007 alleging that Fink engaged in harassing behavior, including verbal comments of a sexual nature, overly personal comments regarding personal appearance and “ogling.”

The lawsuit claims Fink would call Sislo into his office to “show her off” to other men; that he would call her at home for no work-related reason; that he told her she “looked really foxy today”; that he asked her whether he could use her bikini in his re-election ads; and that he asked her to recant her allegations.

The suit also claimed the county failed to take action to protect Sislo from the harassment and eventual retaliation. In the settlement, the county has not conceded any wrongdoing. Then-County Administrator Alan Mitchell ended Sislo’s employment in July 2008. Sislo’s attorney claims she was unable to work because of health issues connected to the harassment and retaliation.

Sislo could not be reached for comment Monday. Her attorney, Howard Bolter, declined to comment. Fink did not immediately return a reporter’s phone call Monday. But in 2007 he said he had done nothing wrong.

“If there is any reason for being defiant, it’s because I have had an impeccable reputation and have never committed any kind of an injustice that would warrant such an attack,” Fink said at the time. “It only leads me to believe that there is some sort of political motivation.”

An investigation of the complaint, prepared by Duluth attorney Elizabeth Storaasli, concluded in August 2007 that the County Board could choose to censure Fink, require a personal apology, require Fink to promise not to engage in specified behavior in the future, require board members to attend sexual harassment training and amend the county’s sexual harassment policy to cover commissioners and elected officials. But the county took no action against Fink.

Sislo received a favorable finding by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But when efforts to settle the case with the county failed, Sislo’s attorney filed the lawsuit alleging violations of the federal Civil Rights Act.

At the time, the investigation into Fink’s actions was part of a string of unusual activity surrounding the board. The Fink report came just two weeks after another that alleged Commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing made inappropriate early morning phone calls to a female county employee in her hotel room during an out-of-town trip.

The board itself took no action against either Raukar or Fink at the time, and the county ultimately prevailed in a federal court case on the allegations against Raukar.

The complaint against Fink came after a February 2007 trip that Fink made to Washington, D.C., on county business. Fink’s wife, Ann, accompanied him on the trip.

After the trip, Fink presented reimbursement documentation to Sislo that included a Safeway store receipt for groceries, frozen food items, baked goods and general merchandise. On the receipt was an $11.99 private purchase of KY Sensual Warming personal lubricant. Fink’s hotel bill also indicated that he had rented a movie, which Fink said was “entertainment.” Fink said the receipt for the lubricant was inadvertently included in reimbursement documents.

Being presented with receipts for the lubricant and hotel movie was “disgusting” to Sislo, according to the report.

The complaint also alleged inappropriate touching and leaning by computer and desk screens, which forces physical contact between the complainant and Fink. Fink said at the time that he never leaned over a desk screen or computer without asking permission.

via St. Louis County Board to vote on settling sexual harassment suit for $65,000 | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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