Two Logan women sue college, supervisor for sexual harassment

By Cara Bailey | Oct 23, 2008

CHARLESTON - A Logan County woman has filed a suit against her supervisor and the college where she was employed, claiming her supervisor sexually harassed her.

Vickie L. Damron and Janelle Rockhold filed separate lawsuits Sept. 9 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College and James P. Owens.

Owens was the Vice President for Student Services at SWVCTC. Damron started working at his secretary July 1, 1998. On her first day, she claims Owens began making inappropriate comments.

Rockhold enrolled at SWVCTC in September 2004. In January 2005, she was hired into a work-study program at the college. According to the suit, in October of 2005, Rockhold was reassigned to work with Owens, who had specifically requested her.

"As time progressed, Owens' sexual comments to the Plaintiff became increasingly more graphic, including discussions of how well endowed he is and details of his sexual relationships with other women," Damron's suit says.

Damron claims Owens' pursuit was "relentless" and that he used his authority to corner her in his office and subject her to the barrage of sexual comments and innuendo, the suit says.

According to the suit, Owens "preyed" on Damron's meek personality and fear of losing her job.

During one instance, Owens pulled Damron into his lap, pulled down the front of her dress and groped her. On another occasion, Damron was writing down an assignment in Owens' office when she claims he completely undressed and stood before her with an erection.

In November 2007, Owens suffered a stroke, and upon his return, continued sexual misconduct toward Damron, the suit says.

On April 30, 2008, Damron reported Owens' misconduct to Merle Dempsey, the Executive Vice President for SWVCTC.

Damron claims she was moved to a different building and is now performing duties she is overqualified to perform, the suit says. She also claims she has been reprimanded for no reason.

In her nine-count suit, Damron claims she has suffered severe emotional and mental distress, humiliation, anxiety, embarrassment, depression, aggravation, annoyance and inconvenience. Damron seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

According to Rockhold's suit, on her very first day working under Owens supervision, he began making inappropriate comments about her body. Rockhold claims that on several occasions Owens would tell her of his sexual escapades with other women, as well as exhibited inappropriate conduct.

Rockhold claims she did not report his actions for fear he would make changes to her grades.

According to the suit, Owens became bolder with his approach to Rockhold and after lunch one day, started massaging her back and shoulders without her permission. Rockhold claims Owens also asked for her to rub his shoulders.

She refused and left his office. Rockhold then reported Owens' conduct to Registrar Roy Simmons.

Rockhold left SWVCTC for a short trip out of the country, and when she returned she attempted to avoid Owens. However, she claims she ran into him in the lobby, where he continued his pervasive sexual misconduct.

Rockhold claims she suffered severe emotional and mental distress, humiliation, anxiety, embarrassment, aggravation, annoyance and inconvenience.

In the eight-count suit, Rockhold seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Attorney Matthew Criswell is representing both women. The cases were assigned to Judge Charles King.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 08-C-1740 (Rockhold) and 08-C-1742 (Owens)

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