‘Nobody Would Help Me’ — Former Employee Sues The Unified Government Of Kansas City, Kansas | KCUR

‘Nobody Would Help Me’ — Former Employee Sues The Unified Government Of Kansas City, Kansas

Aug 10, 2019

Just over a week after her old boss was convicted of battery against her, Maddie Waldeck is suing the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, where they both worked.

Waldeck, who no longer works for the UG, told KCUR the two years she worked with Dennis "Tib" Laughlin were the "most stressful and heartbreaking of her professional life."

The lawsuit says Laughlin, who was a high-ranking official of the UG, engaged in "a pattern and practice of gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation."

Laughlin did not immediately respond to KCUR's request for comment.

Waldeck started documenting every encounter that made her uncomfortable after the State of the Government address in 2016, when Laughlin approached her table, she said, and asked if she'd heard the rumor they were sleeping together.

According to the lawsuit, Waldeck complained five times either to Laughlin or his supervisor, County Administrator Melissa Sieben. At one point, Waldeck said, she told Sieben, "I can't work for him anymore. I'll go anywhere."

Her lawsuit says the UG "failed to discipline Laughlin" and denied her request for transfer.

"I felt that they knew this person delivered results, so they would sweep things under the rug in order to get things accomplished. And they would try to talk me out of it," Waldeck said.

At Waldeck's grandmother's funeral in January 2018, the lawsuit says, Laughlin told Waldeck, "it's a shame that your grandmother had to die in order for you to wear a dress like that."

When she reported this comment and the pattern of behavior to county administration, Waldeck said Sieben told her he was "just trying to pay her a compliment," and that she should "research some trainings for him."

"Because of its actions, Unified Government deliberately rendered Waldeck’s working conditions intolerable, leaving Waldeck no choice but to resign," the lawsuit says.

'Nobody would do anything. Nobody would help me. And because of their failure to intervene, this guy felt comfortable to put his hands on me and push me in front of two other people, and then I'm the one who was punished.'

On the day Waldeck told her staff she was resigning, Laughlin grabbed her by the shirt and pushed her into a cubicle wall in front of two other employees. A jury convicted Laughlin for the incident on July 30. A day later, after 21 years at the UG, Laughlin resigned. His sentencing is later this month. 

After Laughlin's conviction, UG Public Relations Director Mike Taylor told KCUR that UG officials were surprised by the verdict, because they had conducted an internal investigation of the incident and "came to a different conclusion than the jury." 

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, Taylor told KCUR the UG does not comment on pending litigation.

"Nobody would do anything. Nobody would help me," Waldeck told KCUR. "And because of their failure to intervene, this guy felt comfortable to put his hands on me and push me in front of two other people, and then I'm the one who was punished."

After the battery incident, Waldeck was told by HR to stay home and then was placed on administrative leave, according to the lawsuit, which says this was an act of retaliation against Waldeck for reporting the assault to the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department.

The lawsuit says the UG's actions were "willful, wanton and malicious and in reckless disregard for Waldeck's rights." As a result, it says, Waldeck suffered lost income, mental anguish and emotional distress.

Waldeck told KCUR that over the course of the two years she worked with Laughlin, her health "spiraled out of control."

Making it out of what the lawsuit called an "intimidating and hostile working environment" was a relief for Waldeck, though it meant leaving behind her "dream job."

"I just try to take it one day at a time. I always try to tell myself, no matter how sad I get about this, the life that I have now is better because I don't have to worry about working for him anymore. I would rather take the sadness that I feel now, than the pain and helplessness I felt back then," Waldeck said.

Waldeck is seeking missed pay, attorneys fees and compensatory and punitive damages. Her lawyers have requested a jury trial.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.