I-Team: Metro sexual harassment complaint raises concerns

 

Julie Herring told News4 she's kept silent for too long.

Now, she's ready to talk about what happened in 2016 inside a city trailer with Metro consultant Benny Word.

"Every time he came in he was [like], 'Oh, you look beautiful today. Has anyone told you [that] you look beautiful?'" Herring said. "Or [he was] sitting on the corner of my desk and putting his hand on my knee."

Herring said things went from uncomfortable to unacceptable.

"It just kept going and didn't stop, and it was the little things like coming back and rubbing your shoulders," she said. "I would tell him, 'Get out of my bubble. Get out of my bubble. This is my space, that's yours. Go there."

Herring told a manager but did not report it to human resources. She said didn't want to cause problems.

That changed in 2016 after what she describes as a single, horrifying event.

"I'm, again, sitting at my desk and here he comes, and he leans and puts -- I mean, his zipper was against my cheek --and he leaned over and was like, 'Oh is that you and your sister,'" Herring said. "I said, 'Benny, back up, like, you're in my space.'"

Herring didn't file the complaint -- her co-worker did.

She said she saw it happen, and according to Metro's investigative file that employee, she "completely corroborated Ms. Herring's version of events."

Ultimately, Metro Human Resources found there was "insufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Word engaged in sexually harassing behavior."

Instead, they said he "crossed a line."

Victims' rights advocate Cathy Gurley said that's wrong.

"I don't know what definition they're using, but it's sexual harassment," Gurley said.

Herring was told to review the procedures for filing a complaint.

"We can't keep blaming the victim," Gurley said. "This is why victims don't want to come forward."

Word had to take sexual harassment training, something he never had to do until he got busted.

There's the loophole: every Metro employee must take sexual harassment training, but not the city's thousands of consultants who do work for the city, people like Benny Word.

"I absolutely think that contractors need to be held to the same standard as the businesses that they're representing," Gurley said.

We repeatedly called Word to try and get his side of the story.

"Mr. Word, as you know, I've been trying to get a hold of you for several weeks," said News4 I-Team reporter Carley Gordon as Word dodged our cameras.

Clearly, he didn't want to talk about what happened or the investigation that followed.

Word still works as a consultant for Metro Public Works, but Herring has since moved on. After being denied a promotion, she resigned.

"I was absolutely devastated, and it's just a prime example of why other women don't come forward to report this stuff," Herring said.

She now wishes she had gone to police with her sexual harassment complaint.

Herring says her only recourse is talking to News4 about what happened.

"Because I want to get it out there," Herring explained. "I mean, I'm not the only one this is happening to -- and other people, I wish they would come out and say something, too. It's wrong. It can't keep happening. It can't."

A spokesman for Metro HR told News4 they stand by their investigation.

As for Word, after we confronted him outside that city meeting, an attorney for him and his employer contacted News4 and said:Metro did a thorough investigation for the actions that allegedly took place in 2016. Word followed their reccomendations, including completing sexual harrassment training.They also pointed out that Herring didn't appeal Metro's findings. She never contacted Word's employer and she didn't take any legal action.

UPDATE:

After watching this story on News4, District 26 Councilman Jeremy Elrod responded on Twitter, saying: "I hear you, Julie, and I’m sorry this happened to you. As Public Works Chair, I’ll look into this and see what happened.

To be clear, no Metro employee should ever put up with sexual harassment. Anyone that commits it should no longer be an employee of or contractor with Metro."Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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