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Louisville settles sexual harassment case with jail staffer

Louisville Metro Department of Corrections
Roberto Roldan
Louisville Metro Department of Corrections

Story updated 2/25

The city has settled with the corrections officer who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Louisville jail and jail staff union.

In a 2019 lawsuit, Emily Nichols claimed the jail and union allowed corrections officer Tracy Dotson to sexually harass her. At the time, Dotson was president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 77 representing corrections officers at the Louisville jail. 

A Louisville Metro Department of Corrections spokesperson declined to comment on the settlement, and County Attorney Mike O’Connell’s office has yet to respond to a request for comment. Nichols’ lawyer, Tom Coffey, said Nichols received $60,000 in the settlement.

“Emily thought it was fair. It roughly equates to two years of her salary,” Coffey said. “This was $60,000 for the emotional distress she endured for what she believes was sexual harassment.”

The two officers initially had a flirtatious relationship over text messages while Nichols was dealing with a workplace injury. Nichols claims Dotson and the union helped her get assignments that were easier to manage with her injury as well as training shifts that paid more. Nichols claims that help vanished once she ended the relationship with Dotson.

KyCIR reported in October about other allegations of harassment and blackmail lodged by union members against Dotson. That investigation found Dotson had previously been reprimanded for spreading sexual rumors about another female employee, and had racked up a long list of disciplinary actions over the course of his tenure at the jail.

Investigators recommended the jail fire Dotson on three separate occasions for provoking or injuring people held at the jail. He was fired once in 2017, but challenged the discipline and with the help of the union, got his job back.

Jail spokesperson Steve Durham said at the time that provisions in the city’s contract with corrections officers made it difficult to hold misbehaving officers accountable. 

Contract negotiations in January led to a raise for corrections officers as well as several changes to the disciplinary process to address problems highlighted in that story: jail administrators can now consider old infractions while determining punishment for certain disciplinary actions, and the timetable for discipline was extended to 60 days after the Professional Standards Unit completes its findings. Previously, discipline had to be enacted within 60 days of the director first learning about a possible infraction.

"The allegations against the FOP and past President Dotson were not true," current FOP Lodge 77 president Daniel Johnson said in a text message. "An investigation was done through the Professional Standards Unit and he was cleared." Dotson declined to comment.

After this story's publication, jail spokesperson Durham sent a statement saying the case "was settled on the facts presented."

"Ms. Nichols testified under oath as to her abuse," Durham said. "Union leaderships' decision to shame the victim is outrageous."

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Audra Eckerle dismissed the case against the union, arguing the union was not Nichols’ employer and was not responsible for what happened to Nichols at the workplace.

The settlement comes at a turbulent time for the troubled jail. Six people have died in custody there since November, including three deaths by suicide. Mayor Greg Fischer recently announced an independent review of the jail and has brought on two new officials to take a close look at overcrowding, understaffing and accountability.

This story has been updated to include a statement from FOP Lodge 77 and a statement from Louisville jail spokesperson Steve Durham.

Jared Bennett is an investigative reporter and deputy editor for LPM. Email Jared at jbennett@lpm.org.