One of the six female troopers suing the Kansas Highway Patrol’s leadership over allegations of sexual harassment has been placed on leave awaiting the outcome of an administrative investigation, court records show.
A new court filing claiming retaliation shows that Capt. Amber Harrington was relieved from her duties on March 9, less than two months after she and five other female employees filed a federal lawsuit against the Highway Patrol’s top officers.
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 29, accuses the agency’s leaders of creating a hostile work environment marked by sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation.
An amended version of the lawsuit accuses the agency of retaliating against her for bringing the discrimination and harrasment complaint.
The Highway Patrol did not respond to a request for comment. It also did not respond to a request about Harrington’s employment status in March.
Court documents show that Harrington was notified she would be placed on leave in a letter from Col. Herman Jones, the superintendent of the Highway Patrol and a primary focus of the allegations in the lawsuit.
The amended lawsuit accuses the agency of retaliating against Harrington for “her protected acts in opposition to KHP’s discrimination.”
Harrington’s lawyer asked the Highway Patrol to provide information detailing any complaint lodged against her that led to her being placed on leave.
The Highway Patrol didn’t respond to Harrington’s written request for further information. Jones sent a letter to Harrington on April 8 saying that the administrative order would be continued.
Harrington, who has worked for the Highway Patrol since 2000, had accused Jones in the lawsuit of inappropriately touching her on the back in August 2019 while in the presence of another senior KHP officer.
The lawsuit said Jones responded by laughing, walking back over to her, repeated the touching, and told her, “there, I take it back.”
In the lawsuit, Harrington accuses Jones of touching her three times on different occasions after she told him to stop.
Harrington said the agency took other actions against her for complaints she lodged against Jones.
Harrington said the agency had cut her out of information about changes that directly impacted the KHP troop under her command, which was the Capitol Police.
She said the agency undermined her authority to command her troop and prevented her from effectively performing her job duties.
She accused KHP Maj. Andy Dean of ordering her to carry out directives that were impossible to perform and were not required of male captains under his command.
She said Dean intentionally tried to set her up to fail by creating the perception she couldn’t fulfill her duties as a captain.
“Maj. Dean’s discriminatory pattern or practice of placing restrictions and demands on
Harrington’s command of Troop K, and his direct micromanagement of her employment
duties, have continued and have left her in fear of losing her employment,” the lawsuit stated.
The 80-page amended lawsuit names 11 officers at the Highway Patrol, including Jones and Assistant Superintendent Jason De Vore as well as Kraig Knowlton, director of personnel services for the Department of Administration.
The lawsuit alleges 33 counts of violating federal anti-discrimination law, the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The lawsuit accuses Jones of repeatedly touching and hugging female employees against their wishes in an environment where men were treated differently from women.
It accuses him of openly making offensive sexual jokes in the presence of female KHP employees.
The lawsuit came almost two months after a pair of former Highway Patrol officers took the state to court, contending they were retaliated against for helping female employees defend themselves against sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
The two officers — former Majs. Scott Harrington and Joshua Kellerman — were forced out last summer. It is believed to be the first time in at least 25 years that a Highway Patrol major has been dismissed.