Public official faces sexual harassment claims - WSMV Channel 4

Public official faces sexual harassment claims

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A local county official is facing serious allegations and two separate federal Equal Employment Opportunity complaints after alleged sexual harassment in the office.

Five women are accusing Rutherford County property assessor Bill Boner of everything from sexual harassment to cheating on a test to helping family members get tax breaks.

The five women who have come forward to talk about Boner combined for a grand total of 70 years experience in that office. They have each been fired, resigned or retired since Boner took office three years ago.

Cathy Dumm said she hardly recognizes herself and that her experience in the Rutherford County property assessor's office was so awful that she literally did things to make herself less attractive to Bill Boner.

"He didn't like fat women, so I quit smoking and putting on weight," she said. "He would say, 'your butt is getting big.' He liked me to wear my hair down, and I wore it up for three years. After I got terminated, I cut off all my hair."

Co-worker Janie Zumbro, who also filed an EEO complaint against Boner, said Boner never sexually harassed her, but she had a front-row seat to Boner targeting Dumm.

"He was always almost into her breasts. She got to where she would take a step back, and he would take a step forward. And she would take another step back," Zumbro said. "I have watched her go backwards until she ran out of room, and he was right up on her chest. I thought it was totally unnecessary, unprofessional and totally disgusting."

"He used to come to my desk and just squeeze his legs together and say, 'oh, God I gotta get out of here.' And with me in there as a witness, he didn't think I was watching," Dumm said. "I had my arms on my chair. He started rocking, bouncing his private parts into my arms. I moved, so he adjusted his stance. I got up, and I didn't know what to do."

Boner told the Channel 4 I-Team none of the allegations are true.

"None of it," Boner said.

The Channel 4 I-Team contacted the human resources office, but there is nothing to check because HR doesn't keep files on elected officials.

Plus, Zumbro and Dumm said when they finally got the nerve to at least talk about some of Boner's behavior and language with HR, they discovered Boner was going to sit in on the meeting.

The Channel 4 I-Team obtained excerpts of that taped hearing in which Boner is heard interrupting the women.

"The way I feel like, being the supervisor, the assessor, I'm going to have to move you out and put you somewhere," Boner says on the tape.

"I just think it's interesting you can move me out so you can say the same things," Zumbro responds.

Within six weeks, both Zumbro and Dumm were fired. The official reason was fired for gossiping, but neither woman had been written up during their combined 22 years in the office.

The state unemployment tribunal that reviewed their case found that the women had neither received reprimands, either written or verbal, nor had they received a warning regarding gossiping before they were terminated.

Even further, the appeals officer ruled that their termination was the result of retaliation on the part of the employer.

Christy, who wanted her face and last name concealed to avoid any possible embarrassment for her new employer, said she couldn't wait to get out of the property assessor's office.

"It was very embarrassing. I'm not one who was harassed, but I was a witness. He is very repulsive in that way," she said.

Pam Smith retired after she said Boner moved her out of the sight of the public because she was "too fat."

"He always kept a bowl of candy up at the front, and the girl, Connie, he would try to pitch a piece of candy down the front of her dress," Smith said.

And then there is Robbie, who also wanted her face and last name concealed, said Boner compared himself to Hugh Hefner, saying he had a much stronger sex drive than Hefner.

"He grabbed the door. He told me he was younger than Hugh Hefner, that he could still get an erection and did I want to see," Robbie said.

Boner also responded to the Channel 4 I-Team's questions on these alleged statements on his sex drive.

"Hey, I don't have one. I guess I'm saying a lot I shouldn't be saying, but a 73-year-old man is like a 73-year-old man," Boner said.

Robbie said one of Boner's other tricks was to come up behind her and try to make her chest jiggle, which is similar to a claim also made by Dumm in her EEO complaint.

"He would stand behind the chair and start shaking the chair and making comments about my breasts," Robbie said. "And he would tell me, 'you need your job.' It was very threatening. That was a daily basis, shaking the chair."

Robbie was also fired, after 23 years, and again without ever being officially written up.

Again, the state's report said Boner failed to provide sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation of disruption.

"You know, when you fire someone, they've got to come up with something," Boner said. "All they had to do is do what I told them to do. If they refuse to do it, what can you do?"

The women's EEO complaints are still working their way toward a hearing. Typically, EEO complaints can take up to six months to reach a hearing.

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