Dallas County Health Employee Who Accused Director of Sexual Harassment Sues for More Than $1 Million

Woman claims former Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson sexually harassed, assaulted her at work

A Dallas County employee who spoke exclusively, and under anonymity, with NBC 5 in January alleging a top county health official engaged in "coerced sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation" for several years is going public with a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million in relief.

Lynette Smith-Clay told NBC 5 earlier this year that in 2013, soon after she began working under Director Zachary Thompson at the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department, he began a years-long pattern of "sexual abuse."

Monday, Smith-Clay said she felt empowered to complain as the #MeToo movement brought women's accusations forward against other powerful people.

"I would see all these other women on TV who were having the courage to do it and I felt if I can help one person, I have to say something," she said.

In her lawsuit, Smith-Clay alleges she was sexually harassed, retaliated against for protesting unwanted advances and was a victim of sexual assault.

The lawsuit said "Thompson intentionally and knowingly made unwanted physical and sexual contact with Plaintiff on numerous occasions by coercing her into various sexual acts and thereby assaulted her when he knew or should have reasonably believed that Plaintiff would regard the contact as unwanted and offensive."

Smith-Clay told NBC 5 Monday that she never pursued the sexual assault allegations with the Dallas Police Department and waited years to complain to Dallas County Human Resources officials.

"I’m a single parent and I have a child in college and I needed my job," she said. "I didn’t think that I would have any support because of his position."

An unnamed Dallas County employee alleges recently terminated Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson engaged in a "pattern of coerced sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation" inside the county office that lasted for four years.

In her interview earlier this year, Smith-Clay said when she and Thompson were alone at a conference, light conversation turned into unwanted touching, an advance she said caught her off guard.

"I was just shocked. I was shocked and I just kind of pushed away -- asked to stop, to leave," she told NBC 5.

After the initial advance, the woman said Thompson acted like nothing had happened until, back in Dallas, he propositioned her again -- this time inside the office of the county health department.

Smith-Clay didn't elaborate on what took place inside the office and would only say that it was unwanted sexual contact that she described as "sexual abuse."

She claimed she told Thompson "stop" and "no" many times and even cried during some of the sexual acts.

"Then I would just leave, pack my things, go home and be natural like nothing happened. And I did that for so long," she said.

Though Smith-Clay didn't share the graphic details of what took place in Thompson's office over the course of two years, she did say she put all of the details in a grievance she filed with the county in December 2017.

Smith-Clay told NBC 5 in January that the county human resources department mishandled her grievance and violated her further by holding sensitive conversations about her allegations with open doors, within earshot of other employees, and by shifting blame to her instead of the accused.

She said an HR representative asked her on the telephone if her grievance was in response to her performance feedback or, "Is it just that you like men in power?"

The Dallas Morning News' James Ragland talks about the investigation into former DCHHS Director Zachary Thompson and what it means for the county.

Some grant programs Smith-Clay was connected to at the Health Department have been the subject of federal government concerns but Smith-Clay insists complaints about her work came in retaliation to her accusations.

Thompson, who was to retire Jan. 31, 2018, was fired Jan. 3.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said days later the county was bringing in an outside firm to investigate the allegations and county procedures. On Monday Jenkins told NBC 5 the investigation is ongoing and he declined to comment on the lawsuit.

"As far as I know they’ve done nothing," said Jennifer Spencer, the employee's lawyer. "While we wanted to seek redress without a formal lawsuit where she had to come forward into the public, that just hasn’t been possible."

Thompson's attorney, Anthony Lyons, said he has not seen the lawsuit but that his client has denied all of the allegations in the past and that he continues to deny them today.

Lynette Smith-Clay Petition and Request for Disclosure

NBC 5's Meredith Land contributed to this report.

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