State settles harassment lawsuit

The state has settled a sexual harassment case that resulted in the resignation of Nevada's two top conservation department officials more than a year ago.

The deal was approved Tuesday by Gov. Kenny Guinn, Secretary of State Dean Heller and Attorney General Brian Sandoval sitting as the Board of Examiners.

Jolaine Johnson, who was deputy administrator of the Division of Environmental Protection, filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment by deputy Conservation Director Freeman Johnson. After an investigation by the governor's office, Johnson resigned his position.

Both Johnson's attorney and Senior Deputy Attorney General Jeff Parker emphasized there were never any allegations of misconduct or harassment against Conservation and Natural Resources Director Mike Turnipseed. Turnipseed retired amid allegations he failed to do anything about the sexual harassment complaints against Johnson. The victim's lawyer, Cal Dunlap of Reno, said there were several such complaints.

In the resulting departmental shakeup, the woman's boss, Allen Biaggi, was promoted from head of DEP to head of the natural resources division - Turnipseed's job - and she applied for Biaggi's old job.

When she was rejected, she filed a complaint accusing the state of not promoting her because she had filed the sexual harassment complaints. Dunlap said she was deputy chief of DEP and had five years more experience than any other applicant.

The lawsuit demanded $1 million in damages.

After lengthy negotiations, state negotiator David Grundy and Dunlap reached an agreement settling the case for $149,000 - more than $100,000 of which will go to pay Dunlap's fees.

In addition, the state agreed to give Jolaine Johnson a position representing the Division of Environmental Protection at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. She retains the title of bureau chief and is guaranteed that position for at least four years, Dunlap said.

Parker advised the board to take the deal because if the case goes to trial, not only could the verdict order a much higher amount but the state would be liable for all attorney fees.

The vote was unanimous.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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