Agency settles sexual harassment lawsuit

Tuesday, April 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DURANT, Okla. (AP) _ The Southern Oklahoma Development Association has reached a settlement with a former employee who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Shonda Barnes filed the federal lawsuit nearly two years ago, alleging she was sexually harassed by the agency's former director, Roy Boatner, then fired when she rejected his alleged advances.

Barnes sued Boatner, SODA and the president of its governing board, Durant City Manager Paul Buntz.

The settlement awards Barnes $75,000 while stating the agency does not admit any wrongdoing, association Director Wes Bowman said Monday. The agreement also states Barnes will drop all claims against the association, Boatner and Buntz.

The association is a sub-state planning district that works with several southern Oklahoma city and county governments and entities in obtaining state and federal grants.

Barnes, a former association grant coordinator, was fired for what agency officials at the time considered improper actions regarding a $5,000 grant.

The grant was awarded to a cemetery where another agency employee, Debbie Alsobrook, and her sister, Sandra Miller, had their mother buried.

The Rural Economic Action Plan grant was designed to repair fencing at the Lone Grove Cemetery, but officials said such grants could not be awarded to private cemetery associations.

Boatner said at the time that he discovered the problem and reported it to state authorities. Alsobrook had said earlier that Boatner encouraged her to apply for the grant through the association. The grant money later was returned under pressure.

Barnes' lawsuit said her firing and the reasons given for it were retaliation against her because she rejected Boatner's advances. Boatner denied the allegations, saying an internal investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.

Boatner, a former state senator, resigned from the Southern Oklahoma Development Association last year to run for his old Senate seat.

The lawsuit settlement was approved Thursday by the association's governing board.