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Harassment Charges Spark Change

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When Jackson left, her co-worker ran after her to apologize, she says, but she wanted none of it. The man was disciplined with 90 days suspension, she says, while Jackson, who had held her job for four years, was fired for being "disrespectful" on the job.

"I'm still suffering from what was done to me," Jackson says. Nevertheless, she thought there was nothing more she could do. Then she read a July 18 article in the Richmond Free Press that detailed the alleged experiences of two women in the city's compulsory community service program (both for driving with suspended licenses). The women each alleged sexual harassment by male city workers in Jackson's former department. "I said, 'Oh no, this is my move,' " Jackson says.

Jackson called the two women, Dana Philpy, 27, and Lashaunda Cooper, 21. Both charged that the city workers, who were supposed to supervise their community service, made lewd comments to them and to female passersby on several occasions.

Bill Farrar, Public Works Department spokesman, says he cannot comment on specific personnel issues or ongoing investigations, but acknowledges that the department is looking into recent complaints. The city has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, he says, and already changes are being made to prevent future incidents.

Previously, Farrar says, a group performing community service for the city would often be split up to do separate jobs under different supervisors. Now, groups will be kept together, he says, and city employees will not be allowed to be alone with workers. "That's for the protection of everyone involved," he explains.

Farrar says employees of the community-service program will get some specific training in how to manage workers and expectations for appropriate behavior — "which is probably long overdue," he says. Training in sensitivity and legal issues will also be provided for all Public Works Department employees, who number more than 500.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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