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Suit alleges sexual harassment, retribution at The Center
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A matter of record

The following story deals with a civil suit filed in the U.S. District Court: Wendy Lockwood and Talaya Schwartz vs. The Center for Counseling and Consultation. The full complaint may be read online at .  Be advised that some of the content is graphic.

The Center for Counseling & Consultation Board of Directors

Barton County: Dr. Perry Smith, M.D.; Kevin Sundahl, appraiser; Robert Suelter, Great Bend City Attorney; Elsie Snapp, nurse practitioner; Jennifer Schartz, county commissioner/public relations at Great Bend USD 428.
Rice County: Vicki Cavit, health educator; Laurie White, Community Corrections/Juvenile Justice Authority director for the 20th Judicial District; Terry Pounds, hospital administrator.
Stafford County: Gracie McNickle, insurance.
Pawnee County: Dr. Thom Basom, M.D.; Art Riedel, retired Department of Corrections administrator; Talia Smith, Community Corrections - 24th Judicial District.
At large members: Dan Murray; Mindy Crider.

Two women have filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court against The Center for Counseling and Consultation, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“It’s a sexual harassment and retaliation case,” said Randall K. Rathbun, attorney for the plaintiffs. They are Wendy Lockwood, who is currently the community based services administrative coordinator and has worked for The Center for over 21 years, and Talaya Schwartz, who worked for The Center for more than seven years and was director of community support services and health home services director until her discharge on Feb. 6.
The mental health center is the only defendant listed in the complaint, which seeks more than $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and requests a jury trial. But a central figure in their suit is former Executive Director Dwight Young, who is described as “a serial sexual predator.” The suit claims the agency’s board of directors allowed Young to get away with inappropriate behavior for years, then quietly eased him out the door, but also punished the plaintiffs for making complaints.
“Dwight Young was, from the 1970s until he was allowed to resign on Sept. 11, 2014, the executive director of The Center. The Center’s Board of Directors ... has had knowledge of Young’s inappropriate conduct with both clients and staff of the Center for almost 30 years.” For example, the suit alleges that “Young became romantically involved with a client of the Center in the 1980s. Young had sexual relations with three clients and an employee of The Center.”
The plaintiffs allege a history of  sexual misconduct by Young was ignored by The Center’s board of directors until 2014. And when the board did seek his resignation, Lockwood and Schwartz claim they were punished for making the allegations. In spite of her years of experience, Lockwood said, she was denied an interview for the position of executive director. “Instead, the board’s hire, Doug McNett, did not even meet the minimum qualifications required for the job and was clearly another indication of the board’s discrimination against women.” Meanwhile, the complaint states, “Schwartz was not allowed to lead her department without interference from a new executive director who had no experience.”

Innuendo and touching
Lockwood said she “endured sexual harassment, innuendo and touching from 2005-2014. She was afraid to complain as she was aware of what had happened to other employees who had complained. Her fears about reporting Young were increased as Young reminded her on several occasions that he survived a previous 5-4 vote of the board to dismiss him. She knew that if she reported him to the board she would be viewed as an opportunist and either fired or denied future advancement.”
Among the incidents listed in the complaint, Lockwood said she and Young attended a meeting in Topeka, where they also attended a movie. “During the movie Young placed his hand on Ms. Lockwood’s thigh. She said ‘no’ in an awkwardly loud voice and he removed his hand. Young was both unapologetic and unrepentant.”
The complaint goes on to list salacious statements allegedly made to Lockwood by Young, sometimes in front of staff, which she found “extremely embarrassing.” In 2013, for example, “Young texted Lockwood about a news article involving (a) 300 carat diamond going up for auction at Southeby’s. He indicated that ‘If you were mine, I would make you wear it where no one else could see it!’” At a conference in Wichita the following week, “Young repeated this story and his comment in front of staff who were gathered in the hospitality suite.”
Lockwood says that after she made a complaint, “Young’s comments became much less frequent but much more vulgar.”

More harassment
In the complaint, Schwartz alleges she “likewise endured sexual harassment and innuendo from Young beginning in October 2008 and lasting until shortly before he resigned.” For example, “During her pregnancy, in the winter of 2012-2013, Young would indicate that he was doing research about Schwartz’s sex drive and any new positions required during pregnancy. ...
“In a crowning touch of irony, in the board meeting in which Young was allowed to resign because of his sexual harassment of staff, he told Ms. Schwartz how sexy she was.”
In 2014, Great Bend attorney Charles R. Pike was hired by the board to investigate complaints of sexual harassment by Young. According to the lawsuit, “employees were interviewed by both Pike and Doug McNett, board chair. Pike’s report to the board stated that he had found substantial credible evidence that Young had made ‘verbal statements of a sexual and extremely offensive nature’ to four employees of The Center.
“As a result of Pike’s findings, Young was allowed to resign on Sept. 11, 2014. The board did not disclose the reason for his resignation in the board minutes for the meeting. On Sept. 14, Board Chair Doug McNett sent an email to all staff indicating that the board had accepted Young’s resignation but that he would remain on the payroll through mid October. Incredibly, the board took no action on the allegations of serial sexual harassment.”
McNett, who was board chairman and an assistant Pawnee County attorney at the time, was named acting director at the time, and became the full-time executive director of The Center in February of this year.
The complaint alleges, “In retaliation for their honest responses to questioning from Pike, the board began a campaign of retaliation against the complainants. In spite of the fact that Lockwood was clearly the most qualified applicant to serve as acting executive director of The Center, the board hired its male board chair, Doug McNett, to serve in that position.
“Lockwood was denied an interview for the position ... as the board somehow concluded she had a ‘conflict of interest.’ Instead, the board’s hire, Doug McNett, did not even meet the minimum qualifications required for the job and was clearly another indication of the board’s discrimination against women.”

The Center’s response
The Center has until Nov. 18 to file a response to this suit. McNett said he is not at liberty to discuss details of the lawsuit, which involves personnel matters, but he said the board “took immediate and appropriate actions to safeguard that a safe environment for our staff and clients existed while the allegations were investigated.”
Recalling the timeline, McNett said, “I as board chair was first notified of the allegations of inappropriate conduct on Aug. 11, 2014.” Young was suspended at the August 2014 board meeting and his resignation was accepted on Sept. 11, 2014.
Young was not asked to resign, but he “submitted his written request for release from the remainder of his contract on Sept. 8, 2014.  Mr. Pike did not formally report to the board as to his findings until the Sept. 11, 2014, meeting at which time the board accepted Mr. Young’s resignation.”
Young was no longer an active employee of The Center after his resignation, McNett said. “Remaining on the payroll for the additional month was simply due to earned leave.”
Asked if other actions should have been taken at the time, McNett said, “(I’m) not sure what other actions would have been proper.”
“The filing of the lawsuit now places the allegations before the court of public opinion,” McNett said. “The Center respects the judicial process and asks that the media and public respect the privacy of our current and former staff.”
The Center employees 91 people and he said they “have remained dedicated to ensuring our clients and the communities we serve receive the best quality behavioral health services.”
McNett added, “the lawsuit will not impact the financial integrity of this agency,” regardless of the outcome. It is fully insured.