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Humane Society sued over harassment

A former employee of the Kitsap Humane Society filed a lawsuit late last month against the nonprofit agency and its executive director, Winton Read, alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation

Lorrie Kalmbach-Ehlers filed the civil suit against the 92-year-old agency in Kitsap County Superior Court. She seeks to recover lost wages and benefits as well as a settlement for emotional distress and damages.

In the suit, Kalmbach-Ehlers claims Read sexually harassed her in late December 2001, and when she reported the incident to her supervisor, four other women made similar complaints against Read.

Kalmbach-Ehlers is the only plaintiff named in the suit.

She was fired from the Humane Society on March 11.

On the advice of legal counsel, the Humane Society and Read have refrained from commenting on the lawsuit, instead referring questions to a prepared press release, which states: “The Kitsap Humane Society does not discuss details of pending litigation but will make known its position through public records filed with the court.”

On Friday, June 7, the Humane Society filed its answer to the lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court.

The Humane Society’s response, crafted by Seattle law firm Bullivant Houser Bailey, denies the substantive claims in the lawsuit.

The suit centers around an incident that occurred on Dec. 28, but court papers don’t elaborate on the event and Kalmbach-Ehlers’ attorney Kathleen Pierce didn’t return phone calls.

Kalmbach-Ehlers filed a formal complaint against Read for sexual harassment the following day, Dec. 29.

“Four other women made similar complaints against Read at the same time, once they learned that plaintiff (sic) was going to make a formal complaint,” the suit reads. “Although the women complained of different instances of harassment, several focused on an incident that involved the plaintiff that had occurred on Dec. 28.”

The Humane Society denies that claim, according to court papers.

On Jan. 5, Read asked Kalmbach-Ehlers into his office after working hours and closed the door. Read told her he learned someone had lodged a complaint against him for sexual harassment, and it made him angry, according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff felt intimidated and threatened by Read,” the suit contends. “Plaintiff felt that Read was warning her against filing a formal complaint or pursuing it further.”

While the Humane Society admits in court papers that Read called Kalmbach-Ehlers into his office and told her that a complaint had been filed against an employee, the defense denies the allegation that Read was angry or warned Kalmbach-Ehlers not to pursue the matter.

On Jan. 8, Kalmbach-Ehlers and the four other women filed written complaints with their union about Read’s alleged sexual harassment.

The suit said Read was placed on administrative leave while the complaint was investigated, an action the suit calls “cursory” and “inadequate.”

The investigation concluded that there had been no sexual harassment and Read was reinstated in February.

The Humane Society stands behind the investigation’s conclusion, and denies the process was inadequate.

The suit also contends that after Read’s return to the Humane Society, he retaliated against those he believed had filed the complaint against him, including Kalmbach-Ehlers, and “enforced policies of the Humane Society in a discriminatory and retaliatory manner, causing plaintiff’s termination of employment.”

The Humane Society denies the allegation.

Attorneys on both sides could not be reached for comment.

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