Del Norte Triplicate

As more victims of Executive Director Scott Feller’s alleged sexual harassment come forward, the board at Rural Human Services is resorting to an all too familiar tactic — blame the media.

In her latest press release that says everything and nothing RHS Board President Celia Perez contends, “The recently reported ‘settlement’ of a lawsuit against RHS and Scott Feller has unfairly placed RHS in an unfavorable light.”

Perez goes on to say once informed of the allegations “RHS immediately hired an outside Investigator and local legal counsel to review the allegations and advise RHS accordingly.”

One has to wonder what Perez and the board’s definition of “immediately” might be.

In the lawsuit against RHS and Feller, the former program director of Harrington House swore under oath that she reported Feller’s sexual harassment to RHS human resources on Nov. 10, 2015.

The record shows the board was informed of the allegations 10 days later.

Yet, “In the months following…(the victim’s) complaints to the board of Directors…(the victim) was forced to interact with Mr. Feller regularly, and he continued his inappropriate behavior,” according to allegations in the lawsuit.

Frustrated by the failure of anyone at RHS to address her repeated complaints, the woman resigned Jan. 15, 2016.

The lawsuit then notes that “On January 16, 2016, the day after…(the victim’s) last day of work, the Board of Directors hired a private investigator to conduct a workplace investigation into (her) complaints.”

So let’s do the math. Some 57 days after the board was informed of the allegations against Feller, the RHS board finally hired a private investigator to ask questions.

Not exactly “immediately” in anyone’s definition. Except perhaps for Perez and the board who have bungled this debacle from the start and are now trying to cover their tracks.

Here’s another interesting statement from the RHS press release:

“At the conclusion of this investigation, our local counsel, George Mavris, advised the Board that no actionable harassment had been proven and, further, advised RHS to litigate the claims given the high probability that we would prevail in Court.”

Well, that’s interesting. Notice, however, Perez makes no reference to the private investigator or his findings. Probably because, as the lawsuit notes: “On February 26, 2016, the private investigator completed his investigation and reported that he had uncovered evidence that substantiated (the victim’s) complaints.”

But this misleading by Perez and the board gets even better. Her press release goes on the say:

“Upon the filing of the legal action, RHS provided the complaint to its insurance company which hired its own legal counsel. Against the advice of Mr. Mavris, the insurance company lawyers paid the claim rather than litigating the issues presented. The decision to settle the claim was not made by RHS but rather our insurance company, which also paid the claim.”

Preposterous. Odds are there wouldn’t have been a lawsuit had Perez and the board acted “immediately” in the victim’s complaints. Now, they try to blame the lawyers, the very ones Perez and the board have been hiding behind in their continued refusal to answer any questions about this whole mess.

Questions like: Is Feller still executive director and if so, why? Or why wasn’t Feller placed on some kind of leave until this woman’s very serious complaints could be investigated?

It’s not like the board wasn’t aware of Feller’s problems. One last notation from the lawsuit:

“On August 28, 2015, which happened to be (the victim’s) first day of work at Rural Human Services, (the victim) attended a sexual harassment training. She would later discover this particular sexual harassment training was scheduled specifically because Mr. Feller was behaving inappropriately in the workplace.”

Make no mistake. RHS does a lot of good for the community; from its Harrington House shelter for abused women and children to a food bank to feed the hungry.

Though it is a private nonprofit, about half of the money RHS gets to run these worthwhile programs comes from state and federal grants. Now we are hearing some of those grants may be in jeopardy because of this Feller fiasco.

Whether or not Feller is guilty of the things he is accused of may never be known. Since the Triplicate broke news of the $152,500 settlement, other victims have stepped forward with similar claims. A pattern appears to be developing.

But those are matters for lawyers to argue and settle. What is abundantly clear is Feller must go and this RHS board needs to stop trying to spin this story and admit its utter and complete failure.