EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — As of Monday, the Justice Department (D.O.J) is looking to join four women in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Schuylkill County.

According to a press release the plaintiffs, in this case, are four female employees of Schuylkill County who say County Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr. allegedly sexually harassed them and retaliated against them when they opposed the sexual harassment.

The D.O.J says the allegations made again the County Commissioner include multiple incidents of sexual advances, coercion of sexual intercourse and sex-based comments occurring over numerous years.

“When an elected official, abuses their power and position to sexually harass public servants in the workplace they can and must be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will not tolerate sexual harassment and will vindicate the rights of survivors.”

The lawsuit alleges that Schuylkill County violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it allowed these four women to be subjected to Halcovage Jr’s sexual harassment and retaliation against them for opposing his alleged sexual advances.

“No one should be forced to endure sexual harassment and then have that injury compounded by suffering retaliation for complaining about that harassment in the workplace,” said U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus for the Middle of Pennsylvania. “Our office will work diligently with the Civil Rights Division to enforce the right to be free from unlawful workplace harassment and retaliation.” 

The lawsuit also alleges one of the women, known in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, said she was coerced into having sex with him numerous times. Halcovage Jr. sexually harassed the other three women through among other things, crude sexual comments, obscene jokes and spreading a false rumor that he had had sex with one of them, the press release reads.

The plaintiffs say high-ranking Schuylkill County Officials were aware of Halcovage’s sexual harassment but failed to do anything about it until one of the women filed a written complaint.

Officials say the County then investigated the complaint and found Halcovage Jr. had violated the sexual harassment policy. However, despite the finding, nothing was done about it. There were no disciplinary acts taken and he continued to serve as County Commissioner, according to the DOJ.

The four women say the county retaliated against them because of their opposition to Halcovage’s sexual harassment by demoting two of the women and moving the other two women’s offices to less desirable locations. Despite a clear conflict of interest, Halcovage cast the deciding vote to demote the two women.

The lawsuit is based on discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Philadelphia District Office, which found reasonable cause to believe Schuylkill County violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the press release reads.

The DOJ says, after unsuccessful mediation the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Departments Civil Rights Division. The Justice Department says the intervention in this lawsuit is part of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the DOJ and the EEOC in the enforcement of Title VII and civil rights.

According to the press release, the lawsuit is also part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative, which is aimed at erasing sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. The initiative focuses on corrective legal measures, outreach and the development of remedial action to address and prevent future sexual harassment and discrimination.