By Kathi Bliss
Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law and members of his staff are in court this week, defending allegations of discrimination, wrongful termination and inappropriate behavior in the Caldwell County Jail.
The case being heard this week in the Federal District Court, stems from a suit filed by Katharina Harper, formerly a corrections officer at the Caldwell County Jail, who alleges that she was improperly terminated from her job at the department. She said she was discriminated against as a woman, as a disabled person, and that the Sheriff’s Department was in violation of Federal “Whistleblower” statutes when they released her.
Law contends the termination was the direct result of Harper’s actions, up to and including allegations that she lied on her job application when she said that she had not been treated or diagnosed for any medical conditions, and that she was not taking any medication.
After she was employed at the Caldwell County Jail, Harper complained that her employer was not taking proper steps to “accommodate her disability,” which she said was Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. She claimed to have been under treatment for the disorder since 2005.
According to her court filings, at some point during her employment, Harper reported having witnessed two other employees of the Caldwell County Jail engaged in inappropriate conduct in the jail’s control room. She reported that behavior to a superior, and the two employees were disciplined.
However, after that discipline, Harper alleges that she was harassed, and eventually terminated, because she made the report to superiors. Law and others familiar with the case have suggested in the past that Harper became a discipline problem herself after the incident, because she insisted that her superiors violate internal policy and advise her of the nature of the discipline; it has also been suggested that Harper caused problems because she did not believe the discipline was strong enough.
Testimony in the case, which is being heard by Federal Judge Lee Yeakel, began on Monday and is expected to continue through the week. Law, because he is not only in the courtroom, but because he has been called as a witness, returned calls for comment, but could not provide additional information on the trial.
He did agree to speak about the situation once the trial is complete and the Judge and jury have entered their ruling.
Legal action between Harper and the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department has been common since her termination in August 2009, and has included complaints to the Texas Workforce Commission, the EEOC and now, the Federal Court System.
Throughout the process, Law has maintained her allegations are untrue, and that the actions of his department have been misinterpreted.
Attorney Robert Bass, who is representing Caldwell County in the case, said in his opening statements on Monday that Harper was not disciplined for making the report against her fellow employees, but rather for her behavior afterward. He also said she was not terminated because she suffers from ADHD; she was fired for not disclosing that disorder on her initial job application.
Harper, on the other hand, maintains the belief that she was treated shabbily by a “good ol’ boy” system of law enforcement.