Court: Rumors not enough to support complaint

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Associated Press

Posted on January 19, 2013 at 11:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rumors and gossip may be ugly, but a court says those alone are not enough to support a sex discrimination case.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday turned away an appeal by a captain at the Louisville jail claiming rumors about her having a relationship with a superior officer thwarted her ability to be promoted quickly.

"Idle gossip alone is not a sufficient basis for a claim of a hostile work environment," Judge Kelly Thompson wrote for a three-judge panel.

Dawn Thompson sued the Louisville Metro Department of corrections in 2009, saying repeated untrue stories about a romantic relationship between her and another officer at the jail kept her from being promoted sooner from lieutenant to captain.

Judge Thompson wrote that the gossip spread by co-workers may be hurtful, but Thompson didn't provide any evidence to back up her claims.

Dawn Thompson started work as a correctional officer at the jail in 1997. She became friends with a superior officer, Kevin Sidebottom, after being assigned to the training division with him in 2004, after she attained the rank of sergeant.

Sidebottom expressed an interest in a romantic relationship in 2005, a move Dawn Thompson rebuffed. Sidebottom ended the pursuit and the friendship faded.

In the coming years, Dawn Thompson reported hearing rumors about a romantic relationship between her and Sidebottom. The judge concluded that the rumors did not interfere with her work and resulted in no complaints.

Dawn Thompson and another officer had a confrontation in 2006 over a man both were dating. Dawn Thompson sought promotion to captain later that year, but was bypassed when the promotions were announced in January 2007 even though she finished second overall based on the testing criteria.

Dawn Thompson chalked up the decision to turning down a romantic relationship with Sidebottom, who as Deputy Director of Corrections at the time.

Tom Campbell, then the Director of Corrections for Louisville, testified that he bypassed Dawn Thompson because of her confrontation with another officer earlier in the year. Dawn Thompson received a promotion to captain in March 2007.

Dawn Thompson complained of more rumors about a romantic relationship with Sidebottom, who she accused of trying to prevent her advancement in the department.

Dawn Thompson filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint in January 2008 alleging that Sidebottom was hindering her career by failing to promote her because she turned down his relationship proposal. Sidebottom left the department not long after the complaint was filed and Campbell retired.

Judge Thompson wrote that the conduct complained of "was sporadic, only mildly offensive, and did not interfere with her work performance." Without other evidence, the judge wrote, the complaint fails.

"Utterances, which are infrequent, merely offensive and do not unreasonably interfere with an employee's work performance are not sufficient," Thompson wrote.

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Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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