In harassment deal, sheriff praises woman he fired

IOWA CITY – A rural Iowa county will pay $685,000 in a legal settlement with a former dispatcher who claimed she was groped and sexually harassed by the sheriff and fired for complaining about it.

Madison County Sheriff Craig Busch also agreed to provide a glowing letter of recommendation for Kathryn Frank under the settlement, praising the 15-year employee who he had fired for handling 911 calls with “the utmost expertise.”

The settlement, finalized this week and released to The Associated Press by Frank’s lawyer, avoids a third trial in her lawsuit against the county and Busch after the first two ended in hung juries.

Frank claims that Busch repeatedly came on to her, propositioning her for sex, playing love songs to her over his squad car stereo piped into the law enforcement center, and once grabbing her breasts during a first aid training session in 2005. She received a $60,000 settlement following that incident after filing a civil rights complaint, and the county agreed that Busch, then its chief deputy, would not supervise her.

But Busch was elected sheriff in 2008, and Frank’s prior complaint was an issue during the campaign. Frank says that Busch soon retaliated against her by suspending her 30 days for an alleged security breach in which she allowed a drunk suspect to enter part of the jail while she tried to calm him down. The suspect was later subdued by Taser.

Frank filed a complaint over her suspension. Busch later changed her suspension to a termination, claiming that a county-ordered psychological exam ruled that she was unfit to return to duty. The exam actually concluded that she could return but should get counseling for the death of her father.

Frank’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, said the settlement is “a significant amount of money” that should deter county officials from treating employees that way again. She said the positive reference letter may also give Frank, an Earlham resident who now works for a Des Moines financial firm, a chance to return to law enforcement.

“Being a dispatcher was her identity, literally, and she had that taken away from her,” she said. “She prided herself on being part of the good guys who fought crime and consistently went above and beyond the call of duty. That was the worst injury that she suffered.”

On Wednesday, Busch again denied he had done anything wrong, but declined to answer questions about the case, referring them to his attorney, Patrick Smith, who didn’t return a message.

County board chair Robert Duff said it was time to settle the case after two mistrials and rising legal bills. He said the settlement would be funded by taxpayers and the county’s insurer.

“I’m happy it’s over and hope it never happens again,” he said.