Suit says ex-Harford sheriff sexually harassed deputy

She seeks $14 million

Meadows quit last year

January 15, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Former Harford County Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows, who resigned last year under the cloud of a criminal investigation by the state prosecutor, was named in a $14 million civil lawsuit filed yesterday on behalf of the former female co-worker who says he sexually harassed her.

Jeanette Gamble of Bel Air, a deputy in the sheriff's office since 1986, alleges in the federal suit that she was subjected to an abusive work environment for more than two years as a result of Meadows' unwanted sexual advances.

Seven counts

The sexual discrimination suit contains seven counts, each seeking compensatory damages of $1 million and punitive damages of $1 million. Meadows is named in all seven counts. The sheriff's office and the Harford County government are named in three counts, and the state is named in one.

The sheriff's office, though it performs county law enforcement functions, is a state agency, and the sheriff is an elected official.

Meadows' lawyer, H. Edward Andrews III, was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment, an office assistant said. Meadows did not return phone calls to his home seeking comment.

Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the sheriff's office, said R. Thomas Golding, the former deputy commander who became sheriff in June, would not comment on pending litigation.

Golding, who was appointed sheriff by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is at a conference in New Orleans.

Hopkins said Golding thinks it is impossible at this point to measure the impact of the lawsuit but that "the plaintiff in this suit has the right to pursue any remedy she feels is necessary to resolve this issue.

"We'll continue to operate with the utmost professionalism," Hopkins said of the agency.

The suit reveals for the first time the nature of the complaint against Meadows, which was brought last winter by Gamble, the offices records manager. Her allegations led the state prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, to begin a criminal investigation, which he dropped after Meadows announced in May that he would resign.

According to the suit, Meadows called Gamble into his office to discuss work matters, then "persistently subjected plaintiff to unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances."

"His conduct included but was not limited to demands for intercourse and sexual favors, forced physical touching" and descriptions of sexual fantasies," the suit says.

The suit says Meadows threatened to fire Gamble if she did not consent to his advances and to fire her husband, also a deputy on the force.

Defamation count

The suit says Gamble did not initiate or participate in any sexual conduct with Meadows. A separate defamation count alleges that Meadows "made statements that plaintiff had voluntarily engaged in sexual conduct with him and that she was making a claim against him only because he had refused her."

Though it was filed yesterday, it could be several days before the defendants are formally served with the lawsuit, state and county officials said.

"We have not been served with the suit, so there will no comment from us or anybody in my office, since we don't know what it's about," said Frank Carven, the Harford County attorney.

Cynthia Peltzman, an assistant attorney general who represents Maryland sheriffs in the state attorney general's office, said she could not comment on the suit but that "we will definitely defend the sheriff's office and the states interests."

Kathleen Cahill, a Towson lawyer who is representing Gamble, also declined to comment on the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

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