Former employee files lawsuit against Preston County Office of Emergency Management

Feb. 7—A lawsuit recently filed in Preston County Circuit Court by a former Office of Emergency Management (OEM) employee alleges the office allowed several supervisors to create a hostile work environment by permitting "vile, disgusting, offensive, and sexually graphic conditions in the workplace " and retaliated when concerns were raised to management staff.

According to the civil complaint filed on behalf of Kaylin Powers by Toriseva Law, Powers worked as a dispatcher at OEM beginning in January 2022 and had received positive feedback and reports from trainers after completing her first month of training.

Powers alleges in the suit that during her employment, supervisors Carrie Pratt and Mariah Mallory "regularly had inappropriate sexual conversations " in Powers presence and showed her "inappropriate photos and sexual SMS text messages " while at work.

Powers also claims her former supervisors would speak in graphic detail about their personal sex lives and ask her a "host of inappropriate, offensive, vulgar, and sexually explicit questions about her sexual life, " asking Powers things like if she would "allow someone to [defecate ] on her chest for $100, 000."

The complaint states the supervisors "felt empowered and enabled to routinely utilize the racial slur 'n— — '" and used foul and vulgar language on a daily basis. Powers claims Mallory "also read portions of a romance novel concerning detailed, graphic sexual encounters out loud."

Despite fearing retaliation if she reported the inappropriate behavior, Powers sent an email to dispatch supervisor Kendra Born in March 2022, stating she was having difficulty performing her job duties due the supervisors' behavior.

Preston County OEM Director Duane Hamilton came to the OEM office six days after Powers' email to Born and attempted to address her concerns, the lawsuit states.

However, Hamilton allegedly "inappropriately identified Ms. Powers as being the source of the anonymous complaint about the workplace environment."

According to Powers, during Hamilton's visit he stated aloud that she "is having trouble in training, so we listened to the tapes. We have found some conversations that should not be taking place."

Powers said later that day Hamilton called her as well as Pratt and other administrative staff and stated, "Let's just clear the air, " then told Pratt that Powers had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her.

Hamilton did not properly address the supervisors' behavior, Powers said, and instead told her to "grow thicker skin, " adding that she should have gone directly to her supervisors with the problem and not involved Born.

After raising her concerns, Powers said the supervisors retaliated against her by changing the terms and conditions of her employment.

Powers claims that after she spoke out, she was subject to "stricter and more exacting scrutiny and monitoring by the OEM supervisors, " making her feel like she was "under a microscope."

Among the changes, Powers said the supervisors increased the frequency and scrutiny of her performance reviews and began to focus the reviews on all aspects of her workday, including commenting on her attitude or mood and whether she interacted with other co-workers.

"Additionally, Ms. Powers' workstation was physically moved so her new workstation was situated directly between the OEM supervisors, " the complaint said.

Due to the pervasive, offensive and hostile work environment, Powers said she was constructively discharged from employment in April 2022 and was not able to find permanent full-time employment elsewhere until August 2022.

Court documents show Powers claimed seven counts of alleged wrongdoing against OEM—sexual harassment creating a hostile work environment, tort of outrage, violation of the state whistleblower law, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, negligent retention and negligent supervision of OEM employees.

As a result of OEM actions or inactions, Powers claims to have suffered personal damages, including mental suffering and anguish, past and future lost enjoyment of life, past and future humiliation, embarrassment, indignity, shame, economic damages, diminished earning capacity and future lost wages.

Neither side responded to requests for comment on the allegations presented in the lawsuit in time for this report.