The insurance carrier for the city of Lewiston will pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by former Library Director Alexa Eccles, who claimed she experienced sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, a lack of due process and other charges, the city announced Thursday.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in March against the city, the library board and certain city and board employees and officials, according to a news release from the city of Lewiston.
Besides the settlement, which will be paid by Travelers Insurance, Eccles will also receive “reasonable costs and attorney fees” that are yet to be determined. The news release said the insurance carrier agreed to the settlement to avoid the cost, risk and disruption of protracted litigation.
“The position of the city, the library board and involved employees and officials is, and has always been, that they complied fully with all applicable laws relative to Ms. Eccles employment,” the news release said. “The settlement is in no way an admission of liability.”
Carol Maurer, a spokeswoman for the city, declined further comment on the matter.
The Library Board of Trustees put Eccles on administrative leave in April 2018 after mounting patron complaints about dwindling services and collections at the library and other issues, like a high rate of employee turnover. She was ultimately fired in July 2018.
Eccles’ attorney, April M. Linscott, of Coeur d’Alene, filed the lawsuit following an earlier claim for damages that exceeded $1 million. The Idaho Human Rights Commission reviewed the case in 2019 and dismissed it with a right to sue in January. An earlier attempted mediation between Eccles and the city had failed.
In the lawsuit, Eccles alleged that she was sexually assaulted by then-City Councilor Dennis Ohrtman, who denied the claims. She also said around the time she was hired in 2012, two city employees made derogatory comments to library staff about female appearances and made inappropriate gestures toward her. She claimed another city employee physically assaulted her in 2013, and she had to endure comments from city councilors and library board members over the years about whether a woman was suited to be the director.
Eccles replaced Library Director Dawn Wittman, who served in the position for almost 13 years. After Eccles was fired, the board hired Lynn Johnson in December 2018 as a replacement.
Eccles also claimed that her rights to due process were violated, including the denial of several procedures like a pre-termination and post-termination hearing, a notice of all claims made against her, an opportunity to respond to those claims, an impartial decision-maker, the opportunity to confront her accuser and the ability to cross-examine witnesses.
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