Down for the County

County clerk fired over personal phone calls while co-worker who sexually harassed her keeps his job

Last year, Maricopa County employee Yolanda Robinson reported her co-worker, Joe Coulter, for sexual harassment. Apparently her complaints have been warranted--and then some.

County officials refused to release an investigation into Coulter's behavior toward Robinson. But they did offer up a redacted copy of the written reprimand Coulter received as a result of the investigation, which states in part that Coulter is being punished for the "inappropriate, discourteous, and unprofessional behavior you have exhibited towards [redacted] co-workers...."

The reprimand acknowledges that Coulter had already been "verbally counseled" in 1992 for "similar behaviors."

Coulter's punishment consisted of a warning in his personnel file, mandatory sensitivity training and behavior monitoring. But perhaps the most ironic of the disciplinary actions is the removal of one of Coulter's job assignments: He will no longer act as the Equal Employment Opportunity compliance officer for his division.

Not only were Robinson's complaints warranted, it turns out Coulter behaved poorly toward other co-workers and had been warned about such behavior before.

County Human Resources Director Shawn Nau called Coulter's punishment "as severe as we are allowed to do under our rules, short of termination."

But was it severe enough?
According to salary figures requested from the county, Coulter's pay wasn't cut. He still has a job. In fact, per county rules, once he learned of the investigation last year, he was apparently placed on leave with pay until the probe's conclusion--so he got a vacation, to boot.

County officials aren't talking. (They denied a request for the investigation, citing a February 1998 Pima Superior Court ruling denying a newspaper's access to a sexual harassment investigation into a school district employee.) Robinson's and Coulter's supervisors aren't talking--the only one who spoke to New Times says he never heard about the complaint against Coulter. Coulter isn't talking, either.

The only person talking, it seems, is Yolanda Robinson. And she isn't happy. Apparently, Joe Coulter fared better than Yolanda Robinson. She was terminated from her position as an administrative assistant in the county's Human Services division February 12, when her probation was up.

While Robinson admits she used county phones for personal calls, ultimately she blames Joe Coulter for her dismissal. Along with the stares at her breasts and behind and requests for kisses--and sometimes much more--Robinson says Coulter often warned her that he was watching her conduct in the office and that she was going to get fired, particularly for making those personal calls. She says the amount of time she spent on such calls was greatly exaggerated, possibly by Coulter.

This is not a traditional sexual harassment case. Coulter, an administrative coordinator and 16-year county employee making close to $40,000 a year, certainly had seniority over Robinson, but he was not her boss. They did not even report to the same department, although they did work in the same building.

Coulter did not have the power, per se, to fire Robinson. Thus, there is no evidence of a "quid pro quo" case of sexual harassment. But it is possible that Coulter created a "hostile environment," which is also defined by Maricopa County's policies and procedures as a form of sexual harassment.

Robinson's job performance rating was very good before she initiated a sexual harassment investigation against Coulter, and poor after the investigation.

Whether Coulter had anything to do with Robinson's termination, the fact remains that in Maricopa County you may, like Yolanda Robinson, not make it past probation for making too many personal calls, but your job is apparently secure if you tell a co-worker she needs her "pussy licked," as Joe Coulter allegedly did.

It was a typical clerical position--filing paperwork and answering phones and typing letters--but Yolanda Robinson loved her job. She was practically hired on the spot--a big ego boost--and started May 19, 1997, at $18,500, with a customary six-month probation. Robinson was grateful for the job, as she and her husband were separated, and she was then the primary breadwinner for her two children, ages 5 and 11.

The southwest Phoenix building where Robinson worked houses the county's Human Services division: Head Start, Job Training Program Administration (JTPA) and Community Services, Robinson's department, which reviews requests for utility payment assistance. Most of the Human Services employees kept to themselves, but not Joe Coulter, who works for JTPA, Robinson says. She noticed early on that he often spoke to the other female support staff, and she felt him staring at her.

One day, Robinson and Coulter walked to the cafeteria together to see what was on the menu and wound up eating lunch. Robinson recalls that Coulter immediately began asking her questions about her personal life, but he didn't make a pass at her.

Another day--the second and last time Robinson ate lunch with Coulter--the two drove to Long Wong's restaurant.

When Robinson remarked that she was tired, she says Coulter invited her to sleep at his home, in his son's room. When she took a bite of a chicken wing, she says he asked her for a kiss, "talking about my lips and how big they were and how he wanted to kiss them."

She said no, firmly, and avoided him after that, she says. Looking back, Robinson's not sure why she went to lunch with Coulter; she had the feeling he was powerful, and she didn't want to make him angry. And, Robinson says, she didn't fully recognize what was going on until he asked for that kiss.

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