After 14 years of dirty emails, an invitation to a sex party, and a suggestion she should kill her husband, a former employee of Salt Lake County Jail had enough.
Sherie Peek sued the county last Friday alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Peek claims her manager sent her unwanted advances calling her body “a perfect package” and sending her descriptions of his sex dreams. Two coworkers also invited Peek to a sex party then allegedly broke into her work computer after she refused to attend, Peek’s lawsuit claims.
While the lawsuit only names Salt Lake County as a defendant, it details years of sexual harassment from Mark Ellsworth and claims it was ignored by other jail supervisors.
“Unable to afford quitting, she has been forced to endure this terrible environment that has continued for the past fourteen years,” said the lawsuit.
Neither Salt Lake County nor the sheriff’s office commented on the lawsuit.
Peek first worked for the jail in 1999 under Ellsworth. A few years later, she claims Ellsworth began emailing her flattering messages complimenting her intelligence. The correspondence then took a suggestive turn, according to emails included in the lawsuit.
“I really was hoping to see things get physical,” Ellsworth told her before describing sex advice a previous girlfriend gave him on how to “make a woman happy in bed” including oral sex and using a condom. At one point, he described a dream featuring Peek.
“You walk over to hte [sic] counter where all the food is and I come up behind you and put my arms around you and start kissing your neck....you fill in the rest,” the email said.
Around this time, Peek’s boyfriend (now husband) suffered debilitating injuries from a motorcycling accident and Peek could not afford to quit, she claims. Ellsworth suggested Peek murder her injured husband, she claims.
Then in 2005, two co-workers called Peek in the middle of the night and invited her to a “sex party,” according to the lawsuit, but she hung up the phone and reported the call to the co-workers’ supervisor.
Soon after, the co-workers broke into Peek’s work computer finding Ellsworth’s emails to her, the lawsuit alleges. They then used the emails to file a harassment complaint against Peek that was investigated by Kevin Harris, a close friend of Ellsworth’s. Harris issued a verbal complaint to Peek holding her responsible for the emails.
Peek said that she felt intimidated into signing a form agreeing to the disciplinary measure and that the hostile attitude from her two co-workers spread to other employees.
“Although time has helped, the seeds have been planted, and some days I find it very difficult to come to work,” Peek wrote in a rebuttal letter to Harris. A fellow employee wrote a letter backing up Peek’s statements that also went ignored, according to the lawsuit.
Three years later, an Internal Affairs Investigation determined that Ellsworth behaved inappropriately and told him to not approach Peek, but the lawsuit said that his “smirks and innuendo” continued along with the bullying from her two co-workers. Peek tried to address her colleagues’ behavior multiple times, but management brushed off her concerns, the lawsuit claimed.
The lawsuit called the jail’s leadership a “good old boys” system where Ellsworth and the other managers spent more time protecting each other than the employees beneath them. Peek also believes that she was denied a promotion because of the hostile work environment that lasted until Peek was transferred to a position at the sheriff’s office last year.
Peek filed a complaint with the Utah Labor Commission last year, but the statute of limitations prevented the case from going further, according to a Labor Commission representative who said that there were no records of against Ellsworth.