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Worker files suit against Denton

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

City employee claims supervisor made sexual gestures, disputes charge

A Denton city employee has sued the city claiming sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation, alleging that a supervisor made sexual gestures in front of her and other employees.

Both employees work for Denton code enforcement.

Deborah Shaklee filed suit in February after receiving a right-to-sue letter from the Texas Workforce Commission in January, according to court documents. Since then, Shaklee has also been indicted on a charge of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. Conviction of a Class A misdemeanor in Texas carries punishment of up to a $4,000 fine and one year in jail.

John Rentz, of Denton, who represents Shaklee in the criminal case, said his client is innocent and they are continuing their talks with the district attorney’s office.

“Our position is that as soon as the facts come to light, we think they will join us in that belief,” Rentz said.

Her attorney in the civil case, Rob Wiley, of Dallas, did not return multiple calls for comment.

In the lawsuit, Shaklee claims that Todd Varner had harassed female employees since the start of his employment with the city’s code enforcement department. Shaklee claimed that Varner made multiple inappropriate sexual gestures in front of her. In her original petition, Shaklee stated that she complained about Varner’s behavior multiple times to supervisors and human resources beginning in spring 201l and through July 2012.

Varner declined to comment.

After she filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission, the city opened a citizen complaint about Shaklee from April 2012. The city asked the Texas Rangers to investigate Shaklee and she was interviewed by a Ranger in June 2012, according to court documents. In July 2012, she filed an additional complaint of retaliation with the Texas Workforce Commission.

In May 2013, a Denton County grand jury indicted Shaklee on charges that she interfered with an individual’s performance during a community cleanup. According to the true bill of indictment, Shaklee is accused of threatening the man with a citation, “acting under color of his or her office or employment as a City of Denton Code Enforcement officer.”

In its answer to the lawsuit filed in March, the city of Denton claimed it took reasonable care to prevent and correct the alleged harassment and that Shaklee had failed to take reasonable advantage of those measures in order to avoid harm.

Spokeswoman Lindsey Baker declined to comment on behalf of the city, citing pending litigation.

In its court filings, the city also asked that the court order Shaklee and her attorney to state the maximum amount of damages. Shaklee is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, in addition to equitable relief and court costs.

A Denton district judge recently signed an agreed protective order limiting the disclosure of any confidential information relating to the case. The City Council received a briefing on the case in closed session Tuesday.

Shaklee is a code enforcement officer and has worked for the city since March 2007. She is paid $21.43 per hour. Varner is a code enforcement supervisor and has worked for the city since December 2008. He is paid an annual salary equivalent to $26.05 per hour.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.