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February 27. 2013 11:07PM

Judge agrees with family of Littleton suicide victim

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled in favor of the estate of a deceased Littleton court worker, saying the state's Administrative Office of the Courts must produce documents related to its investigation into the worker's claims of sexual harassment on the job - which family members say led to her suicide.

The ruling, from U.S. Magistrate Judge Landya B. McCafferty, stated the documents must be given to Charles Walker, widower of Littleton court worker Michele Walker, by the end of business Wednesday.

In 2011, Walker filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that his wife endured months of sexual harassment until the pressure of workplace retaliation led her to commit suicide. Michele Walker, who died at the age of 47, worked at the 2nd Circuit courthouse in Littleton for 13 years before taking a leave from her job in August 2009.

Her estate, controlled by her widower Charles, accused the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) of taking little to no action against female employees who allegedly harassed Walker for months. The lawsuit says Walker was harassed by two to three women from the winter of 2007 until taking medical leave from her job in August 2009.

Michele Walker took her own life on May 3, 2010.

The lawsuit claims that one employee, who became aware of Walker's complaints, retaliated by confronting her and "calling her an (expletive) on several occasions" and "yelling and screaming in her face" on numerous occasions. The lawsuit also claims that while Walker made "multiple complaints to her supervisor regarding the sexual harassment, hostile work environment and inappropriate activities of coworkers as set forth in court policy," she was "actively discouraged" from pursuing her complaint in any formal way.

The AOC hired a lawyer and an investigator, Christine Howe, to look into Walker's complaints. Walker's estate, represented by attorney Leslie H. Johnson, claims the investigation was "hostile and intimidating" to Walker, saying workplace harassment combined with the "aggressive" nature of the AOC investigation were "so distressing" to Walker that she took her own life.

Walker's estate requested an order saying the AOC must produce Howe's complete file on her investigation into Walker's allegations. The AOC argued it already produced materials from Walker's file that qualified as "fact" evidence, including all witness interview transcripts and audio recordings of those interviews; all documents Howe obtained from witnesses during her investigations, and the final report on the matter, authored by Circuit Court Judge Edwin W. Kelly.

The AOC argued against the release of the remainder of the information in Howe's file, saying they were work-product or attorney-client communications, and not required to be produced for the plaintiffs.

Judge McCafferty's ruling states that the plaintiff has shown the remaining documents in Howe's file, which detail the manner in which the investigation was handled, are relevant to proving or disproving claims the investigation was handled in a hostile manner

pfeely@unionleader.com


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