Former Chief, Elena Danishevsk...
HOLLY, Michigan – It's taken at least five months and cost more than $16,000 in legal fees, but on Tuesday evening, Village Attorney Richard Figura gave village officials the green light to release a lengthy investigative report, detailing former Police Chief Elena Danishevskaya’s sexual harassment complaint against two village employees and one councilman.
On Aug. 30, Danishevskaya was placed on paid administrative leave following the village’s receipt of a “Vote of No Confidence” letter from 12 members of the Holly Police Officers’ Union. Danishevskaya rejected the letter and resigned on Sept. 5, maintaining that she was placed on paid administrative leave in retaliation for the sexual harassment complaint she filed in March.
Danishevskaya’s sexual harassment complaint was filed on March 3, 2012, and names Holly Village Councilman Tom Clark, Village Manager, Jerry Walker, and Clerk/Treasurer Cathy Behrens in 21 separate allegations of sexual harassment.
Instead of enlisting the help of a neighboring police agency to investigate the matter, Figura honored Danishevskaya’s request that a mutual third party conduct the investigation. As a result, Gregory T. Gibbs, an attorney in Flint, served in that capacity, conducting the investigation and submitting a 150-page factual account of his findings in August.
Allegations against Clark
Clark is at the center of nine of Danishevskaya’s 21 allegations in her complaint.
Clark was elected to the Holly Village Council in 2010, and served as member of the panel tasked with finding a new police chief following former Chief Rollie Gackstetter’s departure in December of 2010.
One of Danishevskaya’s allegations against Clark relates to an incident that occurred during an overnight conference in Mt. Pleasant in which Clark had asked Danishevskaya to attend so that she could replace him as a member of the Michigan Township Participating Plan Law Enforcement committee.
“On Friday, 6/24/11 at approximately noon as the meeting was drawing to a close the meeting members were saying good bye to one another. As I came up to Mr. Clark to say good bye, he hugged me extremely tightly rubbing his chest over my breasts. This was not a hug but more of a rubbing. The hug made me feel very uncomfortable.”
According to the report, Danishevskaya said she was shocked by Clark’s embrace, but didn’t mention it to him at the time as she didn’t wish to cause embarrassment. Danishevskaya said she later reported the incident to Walker, telling him that the incident left her feeling “molested.”
“I told Manager Walker about what happened in Mt. Pleasant and how it made me feel. I told him that I felt like I was molested, and that the hug made me feel uncomfortable, especially because it was coming from a Councilperson. I did tell Manager Walker that I would speak with Mr. Clark about the hug and request Mr. Clark not to hug me again, which I did on 6/28/11. I told Mr. Clark that I did not want to be hugged and that our relationship needs to remain on a professional level. Mr. Clark agreed.”
In his statement, Clark admitted that he did hug Danishevskaya, but added that he also hugged every woman in the room at the conference. Clark stated that it had been an emotional meeting for him as it marked the end of an 18-year commitment to the organization. Clark said there was never any sexual intent behind the hugs, and that he was not making any “sexual overtures.”
While both Clark and Walker denied that Danishevskaya ever mentioned that the hug had made her feel “uncomfortable” or “molested,” Walker’s statement added that it was his opinion that Danishevskaya made up the complaint as a way of covering for her poor job performance evaluation.
Three of the nine allegations made by Danishevskaya against Clark involved hugging.
Danishevskaya made three allegations against Clark regarding inappropriate email she received, one of which included a video of a topless woman shooting a gun.
“I received an appalling e-mail with a top-less woman from Mr. Clark. The e-mail I received was extremely offensive and it included a video of a topless woman shooting a gun. Please find a copy of this e-mail attached. The offensive nature of this e-mail speaks for itself and I am very offended by this e-mail. This e-mail made me feel very uncomfortable. The e-mail was absolutely unwelcome, unwanted, and unsolicited. I find the email even more offensive because I had asked Mr. Clark not to send me anything with any sexual connotations or sexual in nature. A video of a topless woman is definitely in that category.”
Clark admits to having sent the email from his personal email account, but said he mistakenly sent it to Danishevskaya instead of Walker. Realizing he made a mistake, Clark said he took steps to prevent Danishevskaya from opening it, including leaving messages for her at home. Unfortunately, Danishevskaya opened it before receiving Clark’s warning.
Danishevskaya’s complaint said the email in question also included a racial slur against President Obama, one of at least two such alleged emails she received from him criticizing the president.
Clark later sent a written apology in the form of an email entitled “GOOF.”
“I know when we talked on the phone the other night that I apologized for sending you an inappropriate email,” Clark wrote. “I also asked you not to open it for it was inappropriate. As I send e-mails at times to friends and associates I sometimes do not use the common sense which I have. If you did open it, I meant in no way to offend you and if I did I am truly sorry.”
In her statement, Danishevskaya rejected the apology, saying it was her opinion that the apologetic email was not written by Clark, as it appeared to be “professionally written,” and not consistent with the way in which Clark normally pens an email message.
Allegations against Walker
In June of this year, Danishevskaya alleges that Walker used inappropriate language while working together to set up a Facebook account for the village of Holly.
“I was working with Mr. Walker in his office. We were working on opening up a facebook account. Mr. Walker was sitting at his desk and I was standing bending over next to him to work on his computer when he said to me “suck me.” When I had a shocked look on my face, he then looked sheepish and said “I am sorry I said that.” He said “suck me” one other time to me while we were working together at the conference table approximately a month later.”
In his statement, Walker admitted to using the term in front of Danishevskaya, but explained that he was irritated with trying to perform the work at hand, and uttered, “suck me,” in frustration. Walker said the words were directed toward himself, and was not intended to be sexually derogatory or offensive to anyone.
The report states that Walker did, in fact, apologize for using the phrase, and denied having using the term in Danishevskaya’s presence any time after that.
Allegations against Behrens
During last year’s Protect and Serve Golf Outing, Danishevskaya alleges that she was target of an ethnical slur, after Behrens referred to her as a “stupid Russian.”
“Ms. Behrens also told me that I was a ‘stupid Russian.’ This was said specifically because I was born in Russian and find it extremely rude, unprofessional and discriminatory. This comment was witnessed by other people. I find this behavior ethnically motivated and highly prejudicial to me due to my Russian heritage. On many, many occasions Ms. Behrens has made various negative facial gestures in front of me directed at me and treated me in a rude manner. This has occurred in the Village Offices and witnessed by others. I am aware of many blatant violations by Ms. Behrens of the Employee Manual and many of these are witnessed by Manager Walker.”
Clerk/Treasurer Cathrene Behre...
In her statement, Behrens denied having called Danishevskaya a “stupid Russian.” Born in Detroit, Behrens said she is not culturally discriminating. Additionally, Behrens denies making negative facial gestures toward Danishevskaya, and said she neither likes nor dislikes the former chief.
In another allegation, Danishevskaya blames Walker and Behrens for creating a “hostile work environment,” and says communication with the duo was nearly nonexistent.
“I am treated differently than other Department heads by Mr. Walker and Ms. Behrens. It starts with almost all our communication being via e-mail. I have only spoken with the Village Clerk Behrens a hand full of times over the telephone in the eleven months we have worked together. Since September, I have only spoken to Manager Walker a handful of times over the telephone. The rest of the time our communication is via e-mail. The overall conduct which I have described in my complaint constitutes a hostile work environment and makes me feel uncomfortable being around them. Other employees who made a report of hostile work environment and harassment by Behrens have been laid off.”
In his statement, Walker said that ever since she was disciplined in September, Danishevskaya didn’t frequent the village offices. Walker said he communicated with Danishevskaya via email because she often did not pick up her phone when called, and that email allowed him to maintain a paper trail to job assignments or tasks assigned to her.
Attorney Richard Figura renders opinion
In his 9-page analysis detailing Gibbs' findings, Figura breaks down the allegations into two groups – those against Clark, and the others against Walker and/or Behrens. In all instances, Figura finds Danishevskaya’s claims to be baseless.
Anyone wishing to read the entire report submitted by Gibbs may obtain a copy by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request with the village of Holly.