A former employee in the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says she filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment and assault within the workplace and was reprimanded for failing to report the behavior when it originally happened.
Kerri McConnell, of Milford, is suing the state agency, claiming harassment, retaliation and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit was lodged Dec. 23 in U.S. District Court. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism must file its response by Jan. 16.
• She began working in April 2017 as a seasonal employee in the walleye program at the Milford Lake Fish Hatchery. Also working there was Steve Priller, a biologist with KDWPK.
• McConnell claims he invaded her personal space, touched her inappropriately and made suggestive comments, even though she made it known the behavior wasn't wanted. In one incident, he “slapped” her buttocks with a “drill driver/tool.”
• She "attempted to handle these issues on her own and did not initially make any formal complaints." Later, she raised the matter with her boss, Daric Schneidewind, but she didn't think he properly addressed them. In January 2019, she filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment and assault.
• While she waited for the state agency to respond to her formal complaint, Priller tried to get her terminated, “attempted to scare her, and even intimidated her with a knife.”
• Schneidewind told McConnell she was paid less than the male seasonal employees.
• In February 2019, McConnell received a “counseling” letter that was put in her employee file and reprimanded her for failing to report the behavior of her co-worker when it originally started. She tried to appeal the "counseling" letter and was told that option wasn't available.
• She applied for and was interviewed for a full-time position in the summer of 2018, and was told they were looking for someone to get along with the others. She didn't get the job.
• In 2019, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Shortly afterward, she injured her back, and in May 2019, she was terminated from her state job based on the KDWPT's “alleged inability to accommodate her physical restrictions.”
McConnell is seeking a jury trial and a judgment in excess of $75,000.
Priller no longer is a KDWPT employee, said Nadia Reimer, spokeswoman for the agency. His employment ended June 27, 2019. Schneidewind continues to work for the agency as a fish culture manager.
KDWPT doesn't comment on litigation, Reimer said, and the agency declined to make a statement about the lawsuit.