Former victim’s advocate files suit against former employer, sheriff’s department, former sheriff’s major

A former victim’s advocate for Portage County filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking more than $500,000 in damages against the Portage County Sheriff Department, a former sheriff’s major and Portage County Family and Community Services.

A local woman is suing the Portage County Sheriff’s department and two others for sexual harassment and the improper handling of her complaints. Reporter LiAnna Schwerer has more on the case.

The plaintiff, Cortney Milone, worked for Portage County Family and Community Services and was assigned to the Portage County Justice Center, which shares space with the sheriff’s department.

In the January 10 lawsuit, Milone says:

  • Former major Dennis Missimi “engaged in a continuous pattern and practice of sexual assault.” The behavior included suggestive comments, requests for pictures from Milone in the bathroom and following Milone and attempting to stop her vehicle.
  • Milone reported Missimi’s behavior to her supervisor but no formal action was taken.
  • The Portage County Sheriff Department hired Missimi despite knowledge that he was “abusive” toward women and was likely to engage in sexual harassment.

Portage County Sheriff David Doak said that although he wanted to speak on the suit, his legal counsel advised him to refrain when he was contacted for comment.

Upon contacting Portage County Family and Community Services on January 19, executive director Mark Frisone said: “Here’s my official comment: we have yet to be served this claim.” However, he said he had alerted legal representation for the organization.

Andrew Margolius, Milone’s lawyer, said meetings with her supervisor ultimately led to nothing.  

“The supervisor met with this employee on a number of occasions, presumably took some notes, but never passed them along in any sort of formal way and conducted an investigation,” he said. “[The supervisor] said that she would look into it and she really never did.”

Milone felt she had to quit her job to stop the harassment, Margolius said.

“These sexual harassment policies, which are suggested to employers — sort of to protect them — [weren’t] enforced,” Margolius said in an interview. “It took months to actually resolve the employment situation, where she felt she had to quit because nothing was being done. Then there was no knee-jerk reaction — “Let’s file suit” — or anything like that. It was discussed and then all the different issues were sort of resolved to the point where filing a lawsuit was the only way to get some sort of justice here.”

As a victim’s advocate herself, Director of the office Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services Jennifer O’Connell said her goal is to allow someone to define for themselves what their experience was.

Harassment in the workplace can cause employees to feel pressured, she said, especially if they feel they have no other option but to endure.

“[Harassment] has a huge emotional impact when someone’s in the workplace because people need to work,” O’Connell said. “People need to make money to survive, and so it’s not easy to just change jobs, to just go someplace else.”

The suit seeks damages on behalf of Milone’s lost pay and for personal harm. Margolius feels lawsuits like this help the public.

“There’s a lot of sexual harassment law that’s out there,” he said. “But in any of these situations, I think the public does benefit because people come forward and don’t simply take the harassment without protest.”

Moving forward, he feels confident.

“Employers are indifferent to men abusing their power or interfering with a woman’s right to work, and they pretty much ignore the facts until they’re starkly confronted.” Margolius said.“I believe my client. I believe she was wronged, and also, I feel that this is a very worthy cause.”

The case has been assigned to Judge John R Adams in the U.S. District Court in Akron.