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County likely to retool jail staffing after lawsuit

2/28/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County officials are likely to settle a lawsuit brought against the county by 21 female employees of the Sheriff’s Office who claimed they were discriminated against because of their gender.

County Council’s Personnel and Intergovernmental Committee recessed into executive session during the Feb. 25 meeting to discuss the consent decree that requires the county pay $400,000 to settle all claims arising from the lawsuit filed last year in U.S. District Court.

Following the executive session, the committee voted unanimously to recommend Council adopt the resolution to execute the consent decree.

According to the proposed decree, the plaintiffs are or have been deputy sheriffs assigned to the jail. They alleged that “the county subjected them to disparate terms and conditions of employment on the basis of their sex by sex-segregating deputy sheriff positions” in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Last June, the complaint was sent to court after the federal government intervened and claimed the county implemented a sex-segregated job assignment system that “was broader than required to safely and efficiently operate” the jail.

According to the decree, the county denied any wrongdoing and the plaintiffs waived their right to a trial in favor of the decree. The county’s actions to enter into the decree does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing, the proposed decree states.

Should Council vote to accept the decree, the county will need to comply with the decree by reviewing its staffing periodically and develop staffing plans for the jail that comply with Title VII and utilize sex-based classifications only to the extent they are reasonably necessary. In addition, the county would have to provide compensatory damages to the plaintiffs and others who were affected by the county’s previous job assignments.

Council President Jerry Feeman (D-District 6) said the details of the decree were explained to members during the lengthy executive session.

“This is what was advised to us by the legal team, and I respect their opinion,” he said.

He added he expects the full Council to adopt the resolution accepting the decree at its next meeting.

In other business, Council heard from Tom Lacey, of American Community Developers, regarding a West Akron project for which the company is seeking tax credits.

The company is proposing two phases of renovations of low-income housing at Spring Hill Apartments near the intersection of Vernon Odom Boulevard and East Avenue. A third phase will include new construction on property at the site, Lacey said.

He added that the property’s tenant base also would be changed. Currently, there are senior citizens living there but also a large contingent of young people between 18 and 29, and that has resulted in some problems, Lacey said.

“I wouldn’t want my mother to live here,” he said. “It needs to be fixed up. Once you do that, you’ll see the tenant profile improve.”

Councilman Frank Comunale (D-District 4) said the apartments “haven’t been touched in four decades” and are in need of renovation.

The project, if it moves forward, would be in conjunction with the East Akron Neighborhood Development Corp.

Also Monday, Council’s Finance Committee recommended Council adopt a resolution authorizing the annual grant to The Ohio State University Extension Service for its Summit County office in the amount of $117,900.

In addition, Council’s Health and Human Services Committee recommended Council adopt a resolution authorizing the continued operation and management of the Summit 2020 Quality of Life Project, the county’s comprehensive health and human services initiative, through the end of 2014.

Summit County Council will next meet March 4 at 4:30 p.m. for caucus, followed by the regular meeting in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St.

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