An employee in the Hall County Tax Assessors Office has filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Pam Dixon, a personal property auditor, said that during the past three years she has been touched inappropriately by her supervisor, Richard Lathem. She also alleges she was retaliated against on her annual evaluation and has been denied promotions.
In July 2006, then-Chief Appraiser for Personal Property Lyman Martin announced he was going to retire. The Tax Assessors Office decided to bring the offices of real estate and personal property together under a single chief appraiser.
Dixon said she expressed interest in filling the newly created position of supervisor for personal property.
Dixon had worked with Martin since 2002 and felt prepared for the promotion. Dixon said she completed an associate degree in accounting and took other relevant courses along with five years of experience in the personal property division.
Dixon interviewed for the job, but it was awarded to Lathem, who came from the real estate department.
"They don’t want a woman in the job," Dixon said she was told by her co-workers. "They had already hand-picked their guy."
"I felt I was more than qualified," Dixon said. "That knocked me out of the job that I had trained so hard for."
Dixon said starting with his training period as her supervisor, Lathem has touched her in an uncomfortable manner on five separate occasions since 2006, most
recently in March.
Dixon said he would walk up behind her and run his finger from the nape of her neck to the small of her back.
When asked not to do it, Dixon said he would respond by saying, "Oops, I forgot," or, "I did it again didn’t I?"
In January, Dixon said Lathem put his hands on her shoulders and said, "Now doesn’t that feel good? You look like you need a massage."
Dixon said after this happened on several occasions, she went to Lathem’s supervisor, Chief Appraiser Mike Henderson.
According to Dixon, Henderson said he would talk to Lathem about the incidents and told Dixon if it happened again he would go with her to the Human Resources Department.
Attempts to reach Lathem were not successful, and phone messages were not returned.
Hall County’s employee handbook spells out the appropriate procedure for harassment as so: "... immediately notify your supervisor, director or the Director of Human Resources ... You may also file a complaint with any member of the Human Resources Staff in their offices."
Dixon said the day after she spoke to Henderson, she decided to speak with Human Resources Director Linda Pryor to document the incidents in case action was needed in the future.
On July 21, Henderson wrote on Dixon’s annual employee performance review that she needed improvement on following the chain of command. She had received high marks on all of her previous evaluations.
According to Dixon, Henderson said because she went to Human Resources, the department had to take a sexual harassment training course that took time away from working in the field.
Repeated attempts to reach Henderson were not successful, and he did not return numerous phone messages.
According to Dixon, Pryor then told Dixon that she didn’t think the negative mark on her evaluation was retaliatory.
"I think you’re just overreacting," Dixon said she was told.
Hall County Administrator Charley Nix said he could not comment on the specifics of the case because the complaint is now under investigation.
"I can confirm that we received a re-opening of an old complaint," Nix said. "It’s a harassment complaint ... that encompasses a number of issues."
Nix said the Human Resources Department typically handles situations like this, but that this complaint will be investigated by a different group.
"We feel like we need to send this out to an outside counsel to do the investigation. I don’t know who that is at this point in time," Nix said. "It’ll be either a law firm or perhaps a consulting firm that handles investigative type situations like this."
Dixon said after filing a sexual harassment complaint with the county and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she fears losing her job.
"I have tried to resolve this. I thought it would all go away," Dixon said. "I’m not a person that wants to hurt anybody."