Federal lawsuit alleges sexual harassment, retaliation by Collin County DA, First Assistant DAdfwnewsa | November 1, 2022 | 0 | Wylie News
Both current and former employees of Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis alleged that he and his top lieutenant — First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye — created a toxic workplace by sexually harrassing and retaliating against female coworkers.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court Monday, Oct. 31, and also names County Judge Chris Hill and the four county commissioners — Darrell Hale, Susan Fletcher, Cheryl Williams and Duncan Webb — alleging they were complicit in covering up the behavior of Willis and Wirskye.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages, according to the court filing.
Willis was first elected as district attorney for the county in 2010 and began serving in 2011. He is currently running unopposed on the November ballot.
His wife, Jill Willis, is a state judge and currently running unopposed in her re-election bid.
In a statement, Willis denied the allegations.
“The citizens of Collin County deserve better than these dishonest and politically motivated attacks that waste time and money,” Greg Willis said. “I categorically and unequivocally deny these false allegations. They did not happen.”
His attorney Rogge Dunn said, “there is a mountain of evidence that the allegations are false.”
“These complaints are sour grapes by some disgruntled former and current employees who had performance issues,” Dunn added.
Wirskye is not an elected official but is appointed by Willis. Wirskye was first appointed to his current post in 2017 after being hired by the county in 2016.
As part of the lawsuit, it is alleged that the Commissioners Court played a role by not addressing complaints despite knowledge of them.
“The Collin County Commissioners, including County Judge Chris Hill have known of this misconduct for years but have continued to enable it by refusing to take remedial action or even conduct a reasonable investigation,” the lawsuit said.
County Spokesperson Tim Wyatt said the Commissioners Court does not comment on pending lawsuits.
Hill and Webb, both Republicans, are also up for re-election this November. Hill faces Democratic challenger Joshua Murray for the county judge seat and Webb is up against Democratic opponent Jeffrey Williams.
Wirskye said the lawsuit was, “politically motivated and politically timed lawsuit based on lies and recycled untruths by some very disgruntled and very troubled individuals.”
“It is a shame for all the good people who work in the Collin County District Attorney’s Office and our County Officials to have to suffer through these untruthful personal attacks,” Wirskye said. “I can’t wait to get into court and clear my name.”
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Willis is “untouchable” and “the power and authority wielded by the district attorney is formidable,” according to members of the county’s Human Resources Department.
“This is not just a boss who holds the prosecutors’ and investigators’ jobs in his hands, DA Willis has the power to destroy careers in criminal law enforcement and to inflict penal reprisal,” the lawsuit said. “Such power constrained his victims from exposing his misconduct, or into maintaining anonymity when decrying his abuses, until they could no longer suffer silently.”
The lawsuit claims that one of the plaintiffs, Chief Investigator Kim Pickrell, was treated differently by Willis compared to male employees and was subjected to “unwanted sexual advances” and “routine and unwelcome efforts” to flirt with her.
Willis would frequently give Pickrell full frontal body hugs, pressing her breasts into his chest, the lawsuit claims, adding that he would do so while rubbing her lower bag and moaning. He also made comments about her appearance.
The lawsuit claims that Willis tried to convince another plaintiff, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Vykim Le, that his behavior was a compulsion for him and not a personal choice. In one instance, Willis insisted Le sit at a bar-height table on a day she wore a skirt.
He then stroked her leg with his hand while closing his eyes, moaning as he did so, the lawsuit alleges.
Another complainant, Fallon LeFleur, was hired into the Misdemeanor Division in 2019 and worked directly under Wirskye. New employees were given direction to make the office “their own,” the lawsuit says, and LeFleur decorated her space with plush chairs after obtaining permission to bring her own.
The lawsuit claims “Wirskye came into her office and yelled ‘I can’t sit in here. You look like a whore in a whorehouse.’” He eventually complained to Le and other employees about the furniture and directed LeFleur to remove them, which she did.
Because of a pattern of emotional and psychological abuse LeFleur endured from Wirskye, the lawsuit alleges that she attempted suicide.
Jane Doe 1 is identified as a receptionist hired in 2019 by the lawsuit which states Jane Doe 1 worked for Willis on a “trial period.” According to the lawsuit, Willis “made unwanted comments about Jane Doe 1’s appearance” and gave full frontal hugs while moaning.
At a Texas County and District Attorney’s Office Conference in Galveston, Willis allegedly invited Jane Doe 1 up to his hotel room multiple times, which Jane Doe 1 refused.
Willis said, “I’m not sure where it could lead, but we could explore,” the lawsuit states.
Jane Doe 2 was personally recruited for a community engagement director position by Willis, according to the lawsuit, which was atypical for the office’s hiring methodology.
During Jane Doe 2’s tenure, Willis made sexually suggestive remarks to the individual including “no one rocks those jeans like you” and “I though the heat [from the space heater] was from your hotness,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that Willis invited Jane Doe 2 to his home in McKinney.
“Defendant Willis’ created a highly toxic workplace by targeting female employees to try to flirt with or to direct outright sexual advances,” the lawsuit said. “He marginalized those who declined, which forced many of them to leave their positions, a pattern that substantially contributed to a conspicuously high turnover rate.”
Allegations leveled against Wirskye in the suit state that he told female prosecutors to “get wet and stay wet.” He also shared his motto of “hook up, not down,” for female prosecutors at conferences which implied sexual encounters with individuals who could advance their careers, according to the lawsuit.
In October and December 2019, Wirskye’s office received anonymous complaint letters about Willis’ conduct, according to the lawsuit.
Hill initially met with Willis following the October 2019 complaint letter and Hale met with Willis after the December complaint letter, according to the lawsuit.
Several other anonymous complaint letters were sent to the district attorney, the lawsuit alleges, and Hale responded to at least one of the letters in 2021. In Hale’s email, he indicated that Fletcher also submitted a response.
In Fletcher’s response, she asked, “[e]xactly how is our HR Department or DA Willis supposed to address these anonymous accusations?”
According to the lawsuit, the commissioners could have taken action against Wirskye and Willis for their behavior but “chose to look the other way to further empower the abusers over its own employees, the abused.”
In a meeting with the county’s Human Resources Department, Deputy Chief Investigator Keith Henslee correctly pointed out the county’s handbook required him to report sexual harassment and protected him, and any other employee, from retaliation, the lawsuit said.