Madison County Reaches Settlement In Wrongful Termination, Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Madison County has reached a settlement with a former government official who filed a federal lawsuit accusing the county of wrongfully terminating her after she alleged that a county board member sexually harassed her.
Lawyers for Madison County and plaintiff Kristen Poshard, former administrator of the county’s Community Development Department, did not disclose the settlement amount in documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court for Southern Illinois
Both parties have until June 28 to complete the settlement, according to court documents.
County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler would not comment Monday. Poshard’s lawyer and other officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
In March 2019, Poshard filed suit, alleging she was fired for complaining that then-board member Philip Chapman, of Highland, had repeatedly sexually harassed her in 2017 and that county administrators did nothing to stop it.
Poshard was hired as the county’s chief deputy administrator in December 2016 before being promoted to administrator of the Community Development Department in March 2017.
According to previous reporting by the BND, she was placed on leave in August 2017 for “violations of the county’s personnel policy,” and in October of that year, her employment was terminated by the county board in a near unanimous vote.
In the lawsuit, Poshard alleges she reported the sexual harassment to Prenzler in June 2017 after complaints to her immediate supervisor were ignored.
In the lawsuit, which names Madison County, Chapman, Prenzler and former County Administrator Doug Hulme as defendants., Poshard goes into detail about the alleged sexual harassment, including multiple inappropriate text messages. The suit states that during one meeting set up at Chapman’s request, Chapman told her he felt “tingly” and “excited” to hug her.
At the time Prenzler stated in a news release that Poshard refused to return to work, resulting in the County Board unanimously voting to terminate her employment.
Prenzler declined to comment on the lawsuit’s settlement Monday, and Chapman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
In that same release, Prenzler wrote that he’d asked Chapman to resign from the board, but that Chapman had refused. Both Chapman and Prenzler are registered Republicans.
“Sexual harassment has no place in my administration and I take every complaint of sexual harassment very seriously,” Prenzler said at the time.
Chapman later lost his District 3 seat to a primary challenger William Meyer in 2020.
Lawsuit cost county more than $300,00, slowed by COVID-19
By December 2020, Madison County had spent $328,425 in legal fees for the case, according to Safety & Risk Management Director Annette Schoeberle. At the time, the case was still in its discovery phase, during which each party investigates the facts of the case as preparation for trial.
Schoeberle was not immediately available for comment on the settlement.
Also in December, Ferne Wolf, a lawyer at Silvertein Wolf Attorneys at Law, who is representing Poshard in the lawsuit, said the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed the lawsuit from moving forward but noted there had been a recent “flurry” of activity.
“Unfortunately, way back when in 2017 this terrible thing happened, and it’s several years later and we’d love to have this resolved,” Wolf said in December.
Wolf was not available for immediate comment on the settlement of the suit.
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.