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Harris still faces EEOC complaint

A female Pike County employee says she will continue to pursue harassment claims against a county commissioner, despite a not guilty ruling in municipal court.

“While I’m disappointed in the outcome in municipal court, I’m grateful the judge took everything into careful consideration,” said the female county employee. “I’m hopeful the EEOC will still take action.”

A Troy municipal court judge ruled Nov. 18, that Commissioner Charlie Harris was not guilty of harassment, based on a claim brought by the employee. Harris was arrested July 26 by the Troy Police Department and charged with harassment before being released on $500 bond. Harris’ arrest came four days after the employee alleges Harris forced himself on her at the Pike County Commission building.

Both the woman and Harris took the stand in Troy’s Municipal Court in mid-October.

The judge’s ruling, signed Nov. 18, states, “In accepting the victim’s statement as being truthful and in accepting the Defendant’s testimony to be equally truthful, the Court is bound by the reasonable doubt standard and in the absence of any other witnesses or evidence, the Court is compelled to find the Defendant not guilty.”

However, the employee also has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Harris.

The EEOC complaint against Harris was filed the same week as the incident and cites the July 22 allegations, as well as a number of other possible unwanted advancements made toward the female employee.

The complaint cites a possible inappropriate comment in July 2010, and a November 2010 incident in which Harris allegedly called the victim a “sexy hot mama” and said he wanted “a piece of that.” The EEOC complaint also says Harris made a comment in February 2010 that made the victim feel uncomfortable before he kissed her on the forehead.

The EEOC has 180 days to review any charges brought forth and investigate the claims before moving on with other actions. At that time the EEOC could choose to take action or to issue a “right to sue” letter which gives the complainant the opportunity to pursue civil litigation either because the EEOC doesn’t find merit to pursue its disciplinary actions or because the EEOC believes the complainant would find better recourse through civil litigation.

According to the EEOC, it could be Jan. 22, 2014 before the commission completes an investigation into a claim of sexual harassment and discrimination against Harris.

While the investigation process is not open to the public, any decision or outcome is filed as public record.

A representative from the EEOC said previously that any action the group takes will not affect Harris’ position as a county commissioner.

Harris declined to comment on the municipal court verdict but his attorney Joel Williams did make a statement Thursday.

Williams said, “The ruling is absolutely consistent with the evidence presented in the case. Harris did not do what he was falsely accused of doing. He didn’t do it, and the evidence showed it.”