Two federal lawsuits filed Tuesday against Fayette County allege that District Attorney Rich Bower engaged in unlawful age discrimination against two former employees.
The filings allege Bower “exhibited a marked preference for female employees who were significantly younger” and that two former employees were subjected to a hostile work environment because of their age. The suits were filed on behalf of Elaine Otterstrom, 60, the district attorney’s former witness and victim coordinator, and Pamela Johnston, 57, the former trial coordinator.
Bower declined comment.
“Basically it’s shocking to me, and the rest of the firm, that Fayette County’s chief law enforcement officer is breaking the law,” said Elizabeth Tuttle, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuits. “No one is above the law, and certainly not the district attorney, and we need to hold him accountable for his actions through these lawsuits.”
Johnston’s suit alleges she was unlawfully fired Oct. 4, 2018, after working for the office for 18 years. Otterstrom worked for the office from July 2016 to Sept. 21, 2018 and resigned “as a direct result of the defendant’s hostile work environment,” the suit claimed.
Johnston’s suit alleges she was never given any reprimands, warnings, write-ups, performance improvement plans or discipline before she was fired. The suit alleged Bower said “older women can’t keep up with me,” among other comments, which “indicated his preference for younger female employees,” Tuttle claimed. Johnston was replaced by a younger and less experienced female employee, according to the lawsuit.
Both suits allege Bower subjected older female employees to “increased scrutiny, verbal abuse and continuous or unwanted criticisms.”
“Younger female employees were not subjected to such treatment,” both suits claimed. “Instead, younger females were praised for their abilities, which were substantially similar to, or exactly the same, as the plaintiff’s abilities.”
The lawsuits say the alleged discrimination subjected the women to financial and personal harm.
Both suits ask that the court enter a judgement declaring that actions violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, pay damages, pecuniary losses and lost benefits, court fees and any additional relief deemed appropriate. They further ask that the women be returned to their positions of employment.