County faces new sexual harassment complaint
EEOC asked to launch investigation
December 5, 2012
The administrative assistant to Butler County Commissioner Jim Eckstein has filed a sexual harassment complaint against the county with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In a letter dated Nov. 26, Margaret Abersold alleges the other two commissioners, Bill McCarrier and Dale Pinkerton, former chief clerk Bill O’Donnell, solicitor Julie Graham and personnel director Lori Altman did nothing to protect Abersold’s rights during two public meetings. Abersold confirmed that she filed the complaint on Nov. 23, but wouldn’t elaborate on specifics. “Everything else will be handled by the EEOC,” she said. McCarrier said it’s difficult to comment on the complaint because the letter doesn’t specify how Abersold’s rights weren’t protected. “I don’t understand what it’s about,” he said. The letter cites problems at the Oct. 10 and Nov. 8 commissioner meetings. According to the letter: “This is notice that I contacted and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Nov. 23, 2012, about stopping the harassing, offensive and hostile conduct and the sexually harassing, offensive, degrading ... and discriminatory activity.” Graham said she and Abersold had discussed public comment policy at various meetings, but the Nov. 26 letter is the first time that Abersold claimed she was a victim of sexual harassment. “I really don’t understand that,” Graham said. The letter, which was addressed to Graham, refers to Abersold’s concerns about public comment. According to the letter, “I asked you (Graham) to enforce the policy for public comment at the public meetings or that I would have to take corrective measures.” During both meetings, Abersold was criticized by former supporters of Eckstein, Slippery Rock Councilman Itzi Meztli and Steven Hively of Cranberry Township. Both men allege Abersold abuses compensatory time and purposely wrote erroneous meeting minutes. Since the men complained, McCarrier and Pinkerton outvoted Eckstein to alter meeting minutes as originally recorded by Abersold. Graham said it’s hard to determine the nature of the complaint without the details, which she requested. Altman also said that Abersold never submitted a harassment complaint to her. “She’s never indicated to me she’s harassed,” Altman said. Altman, who said the EEOC typically notifies the county within a couple weeks from when a complaint is filed, also requested more information from Abersold. Meztli said he had heard about the complaint and presumes it’s regarding comments he and Hively made. “Abersold’s EEOC complaint against Butler County is her feeble attempt to silence her critics,” he said. Meztli said it’s his and Hively’s First Amendment right to criticize a government employee’s conduct. “She’s trying to intimidate us ... I won’t stand for it,” Meztli said. Hively said Abersold’s letter is too vague. “Unfortunately, she’s not specifying what the problem is so I’m not prepared to comment on it,” he said. Eckstein, who defended Abersold during the meetings she was criticized, declined to comment until the county receives official notification from the EEOC. The county already is dealing with a sexual discrimination complaint an employee filed with the EEOC. Joyce Ainsworth, director of county children and youth services, alleges Eckstein sexually harassed her during a February meeting when they debated her travel expenses. A mediation session on the Ainsworth case is set for Dec. 4 before the EEOC.