Former supervisor testifies Theresa Farmer did complain about Jesse Marzen
WAVERLY, Iowa — One of three former elected officials who helped adopt Floyd County’s sexual harassment policy conceded Tuesday in court that Theresa Farmer and a coworker followed the correct procedure to make a complaint.
Leo Staudt, 78, served on the board of supervisors from 1991 through 2010. During that time, he acknowledged, Floyd County approved its employee handbook, a revised edition and then a more specific guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment.
Staudt’s testimony came on the seventh day of Farmer’s civil trial against Floyd County. Farmer is suing for damages, alleging she endured just such abuse as well as retaliation and discrimination while working for former County Attorney Jesse Marzen.
“Do you agree the county had an obligation to protect employees from sexual harassment?” Paige Fiedler, one of Farmer’s attorneys, asked Staudt.
“Yes,” he said.
Fiedler also pressed on who an employee should complain to. Staudt, referring to a copy of the handbook presented as evidence, noted the person should first approach their department head, then move to the board of supervisors or the Floyd County auditor.
Fiedler noted the policy Staudt helped adopt requires the board chairman to name an impartial investigator. Fiedler asked whether Staudt was aware of that provision.
“Probably not, no,” Staudt said.
During his testimony, Staudt described a conversation with Farmer and Lisa Bartz, another of Marzen’s employees. According to Staudt, the women complained about the general work environment in the office. He recalled an “off-color” cartoon hanging near Farmer’s work area but did not remember anything of an overt sexual nature.
“I didn’t seem to think they were that upset, not at me anyway,” Staudt said.
On the issue of complaints, Fiedler asked how many a person must file, according to the county’s handbook, to initiate an investigation.
“Probably just one — if they agree to go on with it,” Staudt said.
“Isn’t the answer actually one, sir?” Fiedler asked.
“One,” Staudt said.
Attorneys on both sides of Farmer’s lawsuit against Floyd County have spent time refining central questions for jurors. Among those are the issue of whether Farmer and her former boss, Marzen, were employees of Floyd County. And if so, was Marzen’s behavior while county attorney covered by policies outlined in Floyd County’s employee handbook?
Beyond that, jurors may take up the question of whether Floyd County officials, including Auditor Gloria Carr and the former board of supervisors, followed those policies.
To bolster their position, Farmer’s attorneys on Tuesday introduced a videotaped deposition by Jenny Tracy.
Tracy lives in of Austin, Texas, now but worked for Marzen as a paralegal for about eight weeks, according to her testimony. The period was from late November 2009 through early January 2010.
Suspicion about Marzen’s conduct developed during her initial interview, Tracy said. Besides standard questions, Marzen allegedly asked if she offended easily.
“He also asked what the dirtiest joke was I knew,” Tracy said on the videotape.
Other situations that made Tracy feel “uncomfortable,” and “degraded and demeaned” developed within days, according to her testimony. On one occasion, Tracy testified Marzen came up behind her as she worked, stood nearby for an “awkward” amount of time and then made a crude sexual comment.
Another time, Tracy said she asked how Marzen’s day was going.
“‘So good I almost jerked myself off’” was his answer, according to Tracy’s testimony.
Marzen also asked Tracy to stay after hours, she said. During one incident, Marzen made her stand close to him while he checked her work. He subsequently said she looked good and that he was lonely, according to Tracy.
Tracy said she believed the employee handbook applied to everyone in the Floyd County Courthouse, including elected officials, and staff members, but also vendors and visitors to the building.
“It was my understanding it applied to all county employees across the board, including the county attorney,” Tracy said.
The handbook, she added, also demanded “personal integrity” from employees but promised they would receive “fair treatment and consideration” in return.
Tracy noted what she described as an obligation to report sexual harassment to either the board of supervisors or county auditor’s office.
“Which is what I did,” she said.
The trial is scheduled to continue today.