Lawton City Government Worker
LAWTON – Six Lawton municipal employees – all of the females who worked in the city attorney’s office – have filed state tort claims against Frank Jensen, current staff attorney for the City of Lawton and former city attorney, court documents obtained by the Southwest Ledger show.
Melissa Jo Clements and Megan Loftis, both who previously worked as legal assistants in Jensen’s office; Kristin Huntley, a senior clerical assistant; Kelea Fisher, an attorney in the city attorney’s office; Denise Ezell and Julie Snodgrass each filed tort claims in excess of $10,000 against Jensen, the City of Lawton, Mayor Stanley Booker and members of the city council.
In addition, the women have also filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency. Ms. Clements, Ms. Loftis, Ms. Huntley, Ms. Fisher, and Ms. Ezell filed their claims on Sept. 27. The sixth claim, initiated by Ms. Snodgrass, was filed on Nov. 12. Municipal officials have been investigating the claims and believe tort claims by at least three more individuals could be filed in the case.
In their filings, the women said they were treated less favorably than male staff members and were repeatedly subject to unwelcome and offensive gender-based comments and treatment by Jensen. The women’s claims include charges of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, the creation of a sexual or gender-based hostile work environment and retaliation by former Lawton city attorney Frank Jensen. The claims also state that Jensen constantly referred to female staff members with derogatory and offensive words.
So far, city officials have not responded to the SW Ledger’s request for a statement addressing the claims. In addition, open records requests for materials surrounding the investigation of Jensen have been refused. However, an email, obtained by the SW Ledger, indicates that as of Oct. 3, the City of Lawton has spent $153,568.74 for an investigation of the city’s former attorney. Copies of the women’s tort claims paint an ugly picture of the former city attorney.
“Jensen considered physical appearance of female applications when making hiring decisions,” Ms. Clements said in her claim. “He directed staff to look at female applicant’s Facebook pages and other social media before scheduling legal assistant interviews. He would then look at photographs and only schedule interviews with those applicants that physically met with his approval.”
Records show that Ms. Loftis, Ms. Huntley and Ms. Fisher made similar claims. Jensen, the group said, hired “young attractive females with no legal experience over older females with numerous years of legal experience.” Ms. Fisher, an African American woman, also claimed racial bias. She said Jensen made racist comments, including inappropriate and offensive words, in her presence.
After she was promoted to Deputy City Attorney, Ms. Fisher said Jenson told her he could not give her any more than a 5% increase in pay, due to budget issues. However, Ms. Fisher said Jenson told other staff members that “he limited Ms. Fisher’s pay to ensure funds were available to hire another attorney for the prosecutor’s office.” She said Jensen gave “a promised double-step (pay) increase to another attorney, a white male.”
Ms. Fisher said a male attorney, who was white, received a double-step pay increase, exceeding 5%, when that attorney was transferred to a lateral position in July 2018. “Jensen frequently commented on the appearance of female legal assistants to include comments about ... their weight and clothing choices,” Ms. Fisher said. She said Jensen required her to go with him and male staff attorneys to restaurants such as Hooters or Twin Peaks, restaurants which feature waitresses in revealing attire such as bikini tops and shorts.
At these restaurants, Ms. Fisher said Jensen “would make lewd comments about the female waitstaff and discuss how he wanted to ‘recruit’ them, saying he was ‘sure’ they would be qualified. She said Jensen also compared the breast sizes of two female bartenders. Ms. Huntley said Jensen also made flirtatious and paternalistic comments and gestures to female staff, purchased personal gifts for them, drove by their homes unannounced and “constantly sent them text messages after business hours.”
“He also constantly berated and demeaned female staff who exhibited authoritative or leadership qualities,” Ms. Huntley said. She said males on the staff were not treated in the same fashion. Ms. Huntley said during August 2012, while attending a co-worker’s wedding, Jensen approached her, grabbed her hand and kissed it. “He then said to Ms. Huntley’s husband, who was sitting next to her, ‘what are you going to do about it’ and walked off,” she reported.
Ms. Huntley said Jensen’s behavior became so offensive that she sought to move to the city’s financial services division. Still, she said, the behavior continued. In her claim, Ms. Huntley said Jensen told others that he felt Ms. Huntley and other female staff who resigned or who transferred out of the city’s attorney’s office, were being disloyal. Ms. Huntley said Jensen constantly referred to her with derogatory and offensive words.
All four women said previous lawsuits had been filed against Jensen – and the city of Lawton – and that past employee had raised harassment and discrimination complaints but no action against Jensen was taken. “The city council and upper-level management were aware of Jensen’s unlawful harassment and discrimination,” she said. She also said that city officials took no action, adding that Lawton Mayor Stanley Booker commented that “Jensen and his family were his top priority.”
After other complaints were made against Jensen by two former employees, Ms. Loftis said she came forward. Under Oklahoma’s Governmental Tort Claim Act, the city could be liable for up to $125,000 “for any claim or to any claimant who has more than one claim for loss of property arising out of a single act, accident, or occurrence.” The law also allows claims up to $1 million “for any number of claims arising out of a single occurrence or accident.”