HELENA – A state hearing officer dismissed a human rights complaint from former Corrections employee Adrianne Cotton, who said her high-level post was cut in 2018 in retaliation for his complaint for sexual harassment against the director of the agency at the time.
In a 63-page decision released late last week, the Labor Department’s hearing official ruled that Cotton had not shown a “causal link” between his sexual harassment complaint and the removal of his post as director of government relations several months later.
Cotton’s job was cut in an agency-wide reorganization in the fall of 2018. She was one of many DOC employees who alleged that then-director Reginald Michael, sexually harassed or acted inappropriately towards them in the past year.
Cotton, who now works at Helena as a public relations consultant, declined to comment on the decision on Tuesday. She still has a wrongful dismissal lawsuit pending against the state in the Helena District Court.
In the lawsuit, filed in late 2019, she said Michael suggested in late 2017 that she could advance her career in the department by offering sexual favors.
Michael has denied the charges, and an investigation by state personnel officials in 2018 said there was “no legally substantiated grounds” for sanctioning those accused of harassment at DOC.
The trial was suspended while Cotton’s human rights complaint against the state was pending. Last week’s decision can also be appealed to the state’s district court.
His human rights complaint was the subject of a four-day hearing last December before hearing officer Caroline Holien, who drafted the order last Thursday.
Holien said in his order as Cotton’s $ 94,000 per year position was cut in the 2018 reorganization, Cotton did not show the Department of Corrections reorganization related to the harassment complaints. sexual against Michael.
The governor’s office at the time. Steve Bullock launched a review of the agency in 2018 in response to concerns about “issues within the (agency) leadership team that are negatively impacting the agency as a whole,” wrote Holien.
However, the person who led the review and made recommendations to reduce the size of the leadership team, which included Cotton, was unaware of the sexual harassment complaints, Holien said.
Cotton said those who made the reorganization decision were aware of her earlier complaint and that she believed the termination of her job was a form of retaliation.
The Correctional Service unveiled its reorganization following the review initiated by the Bullock office in the fall of 2018.
Cotton’s government relations manager position was abolished by the reorganization and some other employees who had argued or made harassment claims have had their positions or duties changed.
Some former DOC employees, including Cotton, told MTN News in 2018 that they believed the reorganization was aimed at those who supported the complaints against Michael.
State officials said the reorganization was aimed at improving the agency’s communication and efficiency and “in no way aimed” at specific employees.