Clallam prosecutor seeks dismissal of sexual harassment lawsuit

TACOMA — Clallam County Prosecutor Mark Nichols has asked a federal judge to dismiss the civil sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former office manager and longtime friend.

In a motion for summary judgment filed Sept. 12, Nichols argues that Tina Hendrickson has not presented any evidence he sexually harassed her under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That clause protects against intentional harassment based on the victim’s class of citizens, or in this case, Hendrickson’s status as a woman, according to the filing.

“Where the evidence, instead, demonstrates that the alleged harassment was based on characteristics of the plaintiff that are personal to her, the claim must be dismissed as a matter of law,” the filing says. “The claim in this case is entirely personal to the Plaintiff, Tina Hendrickson, and her relationship with the Defendant, Mark Nichols.”

Hendrickson’s attorney disagrees.

In an opposition to Nichols’ motion for summary judgment, Hendrickson’s attorney Terry Venneberg argues she has submitted evidence that she was “subjected to a campaign of verbal and physical sexual harassment.”

“Hendrickson has clearly and unmistakably testified that the sexually harassing conduct by Nichols was unwelcome, and not part of any sort of consensual romantic or sexual relationship with Nichols at any time urging her employment with Clallam County,” the response, filed Sept. 21, says.

In May U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle postponed the 10-day trial to begin Dec. 11 at the request of Nichols. Nichols and his attorney, Suzanne Michael, argued in court papers that the delay of the Oct. 16 trial was necessary because Nichols would be busy campaigning for re-election and Michael had another trial scheduled at the same time.

Hendrickson filed a complaint and demand for jury trial June 1, 2017 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma.

“We’re just waiting for everything to be resolved in a court of law and not in the public opinion,” Hendrickson said when reached by phone Sunday.

Nichols could not be reached on his cellphone.

In her lawsuit, Hendrickson said she was denied a raise because she had rejected Nichols’ “romantic and sexual overtures” between April 2015 and April 2017, an allegation Nichols disputes.

Nichols admits that he told Hendrickson that he “would be interested in a romantic relationship” with her but denied allegations of wrongdoing.

Both Nichols’ and Hendrickson’s attorneys filed a portion of the depositions taken for the case to support their positions.

Both Nichols and Hendrickson agree that they had been friends for several years, starting when Hendrickson began working a the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in 2003. She worked there until 2012.

Over the years Nichols became part of her family, they both said in their depositions. Nichols attended family functions and was considered a personal friend to Hendrickson, her husband and adult children, court papers say.

Nichols successfully ran for office in 2014 and then hired Hendrickson as his office manager.

Nichols testified that in April 2015 Hendrickson confided in him for support on a family crisis and it was then that he first told her he “had feelings of being in love with her.”

They had frequently told each other they “loved” each other in the platonic sense of the word, both said in their depositions.

Hendrickson testified that Nichols continued his overtures and that he would force her to hug him before leaving his office and that one time Nichols attempted to kiss her. She said she told him repeatedly that she was not interested.

“I was disgusted,” she said in her deposition. “He was supposed to be my friend and my boss and I wasn’t interested in that way.”

She said in her deposition she continued to get coffee with Nichols up until when she filed a complaint with Human Resources in April 2017.

Nichols attended her birthday dinner and other family functions. She said she bought him small gifts and cards.

“I was not going to be able to keep my family intact if Mark wasn’t included and — Mark was part of the family, and so in order to keep … everybody happy and together, that’s what I thought I had to do,” she said in her deposition.

Hendrickson disputed information provided in an investigation prepared by Robin Nielsen of Seattle-based Workplace Consulting PLLC.

Among the findings she disputes is when Nielsen wrote that Nichols’ romantic overtures stopped the summer of 2015.

“I didn’t think I could do anything about it,” Hendrickson said in her deposition. “She worked for them.”

Following the investigation, the county made arrangements for her to return to work with minimal contact with Nichols. Nichols would no longer have been her direct supervisor and the county moved Nichols’ office so that it would no longer be adjacent to Hendrickson’s office.

Hendrickson said in multiple emails that the county did not offer an adequate solution that would allow her to return to work, according to court records.

“I value my position, but I simply cannot be subject to continued exposure to Mr. Nichols, given the inappropriate conduct that he has engaged in,” Hendrickson wrote in an email on June 9, 2017. “I am entitled to be restored to my position in a manner that will protect me from any further exposure to Mr. Nichols.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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