Glenda Bradshaw, the former head of criminal prosecutions for the Jefferson County attorney’s office, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit Monday against her former boss, alleging that he created a hostile work environment, discriminated against her because of her sex and retaliated against her for actions she took.
Bradshaw also charges in her suit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court, that County Attorney Mike O’Connell pressured some of his assistants to donate to his election campaign “or fear his wrath.”
“It was well-known through the county attorney’s office that defendant O’Connell kept track of who did or did not contribute to his campaign,” the suit alleges. “In addition, defendant O’Connell was well known to summon the campaign contribution list if he was going to take an employment action within his office.”
Bradshaw “made reports” of the alleged pressure to donate, according to the suit.
In an interview Monday at the office of her attorney, Thomas Clay, she said those reports were in the form of concerns shared with Julie Hardesty, O’Connell’s first assistant. Bradshaw said she did not know what, if anything, came of her complaints.
O’Connell, a Democrat, was appointed county attorney in August 2008 to complete the term of Irv Maze, who was appointed a Jefferson circuit court judge. He is a candidate for a full term in the May Democratic primary.
State election-finance records show that O’Connell had raised nearly $167,000 through December, including dozens of contributions from employees in the county attorney’s office.
There is nothing illegal or improper about employees contributing to a public official’s election campaign, as long the donations are voluntary.
Bradshaw said in an interview last week that she plans to run against O’Connell, citing what she said is low office morale and her belief that she is better qualified.
In response to the lawsuit, O’Connell said in a statement Monday that “people are smart enough to realize these allegations come from someone who was smart and calculating enough to lose her job, hire an attorney, do five media interviews and launch a countywide campaign against her former boss, all in a 24-hour span.”
O’Connell’s statement also characterized as “ridiculous and absurd” Bradshaw’s accusations of a hostile work environment and sexual discrimination. He noted last week that Hardesty and three division directors all are women.
“She’s filed her suit and it gives her side of the story. It shouldn’t shock anyone that when we file our response it will be a VERY different story,” O’Connell said in the statement. “This was and still is a case of a disgruntled and well-paid employee not doing the job she was given. Except in this case it involved the public’s safety.”
The statement did not specifically address Bradshaw’s allegations about campaign contributions. Bill Patteson, O’Connell’s spokesman, said he would have no comment on that issue.
Bradshaw, a prosecutor for almost 25 years — 16 of them with the county attorney’s office — was fired a week ago after O’Connell said she had failed to enforce a policy designed to track Louisville Metro Police officers who failed to appear in court, and to report those absences to the department.
Under the policy, Bradshaw was supposed to ensure that the approximately 70 prosecutors she supervised documented officers’ court absences and the reasons for them. But she failed to do so, O’Connell said.
The system of reporting absent officers was instituted by O’Connell in response to a Courier-Journal series last March revealing that more than 600 felony defendants were set free in 2007 because officers failed to appear for district court hearings.
Prosecutors initially tracked officers’ court absences after the articles appeared, including nearly 200 instances of missed appearances in just the last two weeks of March. However, the reports dropped off dramatically as the year wore on, with only 20 absences reported between August and mid-December.
Two Courier-Journal reporters interviewed O’Connell and Bradshaw on Dec. 17 about issues including the reports, and also obtained copies of the reports.
Bradshaw claims in the lawsuit that after the interview O’Connell engaged in a 10-minute “verbal assault” against her, calming down only when a male division chief came in to the room to discuss the issue, and that she was “subjected to outbursts of anger” from O’Connell on other occasions.
The day after the interview, the newspaper asked O’Connell whether the sharp decline in reported absences was the result of better court attendance by police or a failure by prosecutors to log officers who didn’t appear. He responded that while officers’ attendance had indeed improved, prosecutors “weren’t keeping score” of officers’ non-attendance as they should have been.
That conclusion ultimately resulted in Bradshaw’s termination.
Bradshaw’s suit also claims a violation of the state Whistleblower Act, alleging she was fired after telling Hardesty that O’Connell had discriminated against her, created a hostile work environment and needed anger-control management.
According to the lawsuit, Hardesty acknowledged O’Connell’s inappropriate behavior but stated, “I do not know what to do about it.”
Patteson, the office spokesman, said Hardesty would have no comment because of her potential involvement in the case as a witness.