What to Know
- Woman says former health director Zach Thompson sexually abused her for two years and then harassed and intimidated her for two more.
- NBC 5's Meredith Land called Thompson Friday, after she identified herself he hung up the phone. His attorney said, "No comment."
- Dallas County officials have not yet responded to questions following NBC 5's exclusive interview with the accuser Friday.
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.
The woman spoke with NBC 5 Friday morning on the condition that we not show her face or reveal her name as to protect her family and colleagues by remaining private.
She told NBC 5 Friday she was hired in 2012 and that the "sexual abuse" began not long after that while at a conference with members of the health department. She said when she and Thompson were alone, 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.
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While the woman didn't provide any specifics of what took place in Thompson's office, she told NBC 5 that it was unwanted sexual contact that she described as "sexual abuse."
"It wasn't an everyday occurrence. It wasn't an every week occurrence. It was every now and then, intermittent. He would call me some days and just ask, 'How's it going? How's the job? What's happening?' I guess, just to keep updated on how the position was going. Just normal conversation -- just acted like nothing happened."
And then, the woman said, there were other conversations that would occur late at the office.
"He would make it a habit to come to my office after hours, when he knew everyone had left -- 5:30, 6 o'clock, everyone was gone at that point. He would call and ask, 'Is anybody down there? What are you doing?'," she said.
If she said she was busy or had to spend time with her family, she said Thompson would get upset and that she felt intimidated by his position as her boss.
"It wasn't like, grabbing and throwing me down. It wasn’t that kind of force. But it was approaching me, the touching, the acts and -- it was horrible," she said.
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.
The woman didn't share with NBC 5 the graphic details of what took place in Thompson's office over the course of two years, but she did say she put all of the details in a grievance she filed with the county in December 2017.
The woman's attorneys, the Spencer Scott Law Firm, released a statement Friday where the woman said she became depressed and even suicidal over the alleged abuse.
"I became depressed and, on a few dark days, suicidal," she said. "I sought the services of a mental health counselor, had periods where it was hard to sleep or eat, and cried on my way to work on many occasions."
"I endured the abuse because I was fearful of losing my job if I refused his approaches. He had made it clear on multiple occasions with comments such as, 'You do like your job, right?' and 'Where do you think you’ll go where you can make as much money as you make here?' and 'I’m your boss.'"
"I needed my job, and I loved the work itself," she said.
The woman said after two years of harassment and abuse, the encounters suddenly stopped in 2015.
"While thankful, I can only guess as to the reasons: I began intentionally avoiding him, especially at the end of the day; making excuses as to why I couldn’t work in evenings; ensuring to walk with other colleagues to the parking lot; and not working late when his car was there. Plus in 2015-2016, HHS faced a high-profile lawsuit that took his attention and angered him."
The woman said it was then that Thompson began two years of retaliatory acts, "including changing my job title, my work hours and even my parking location."
The woman told NBC 5 Friday that Thompson initially insisted she park in the front of the building where it was safer, but that after their encounters came to an end he said she was asked to park in the back parking lot.
"He was increasingly verbally critical and curt. He filed six written grievances related to my job performance this past year, severely increasing my fear and anxiety over losing my job," she said."
She filed her first grievance, about the feedback on her performance on Aug. 7, 2017, but was told by human resources that she missed a deadline to file that grievance even though she was away for an out-of-state funeral.
She filed her final grievance, on the sexual assault allegations, on Dec. 5, 2017 -- however the woman's lawyers have refused to release a copy of that grievance publicly.
The woman told NBC 5 that the human resources department mishandled that and violated her further by holding sensitive conversations 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?"
She added that the human resources representative also reminded her that they sometimes ask people to take polygraph tests -- which she said she would happily do.
"While he asked if I wanted to report to somebody else, he then asked if I could just 'hold out' for another month or two until Mr. Thompson retires," she said.
She said she agreed to report to someone else, but that she never heard back from human resources until Dec. 12, 2017, "when they called to ensure I was keeping my work performance up as Mr. Thompson planned to submit another write-up for some unknown reason."
The woman said the county offered to remove the write-ups from her file if she agreed to dismiss her grievance -- which she refused to do.
"At that time I obtained legal counsel to represent me and confront the inadequate policies and practices of Dallas County’s HR Department related to the handling of sexual abuse and harassment claims from employees. Only after I obtained legal counsel did Dallas County enact its first step toward remedy with the termination of Mr. Thompson in January."
After the woman's interview Friday, NBC 5 reached out to the county's human resources department with a list of questions but we've not yet received the county's answers to those questions.
Following the release of this report Friday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Saturday released the following statement: "Dallas County wants a safe healthy workplace free of harassment for everyone. The complianant and her attorney have raised serious allegations requiring thorough investigation. We are bringing in outside investigators and all involved will be expected to cooperate fully."
Jenkins said last week the woman's allegations were discussed during an executive session of the Dallas County Commissioner's Court and in another meeting with Dallas County Human Resources Director Urmit Graham, Commissioners Court Administrator Darryl Martin and county attorneys.
"We discussed the concern that there did not appear to be cooperation from Mr. Thompson in that he reportedly would not discuss the allegations made against him when asked by Court Administration," Jenkins said in his statement.
Jenkins said Martin sent Thompson a text asking him to categorically deny the allegation and that Thompson declined to do so. Martin spoke to Thompson on the telephone and informed him that he would receive a termination letter effective that day, Jan. 3.
While Jenkins confirmed the director's termination last week, he didn't say specifically why the county fired the director, only that the decision to terminate came after he refused to deny the allegation.
Thompson's attorney, Anthony Lyons, told NBC 5 that Thompson had been out of the office in December, using earned compensation time that was to carry through his planned Jan. 31 retirement.
Thompson served as deputy director of DCHHS for eight years before being named director in 2004. As director of the Dallas County Health Department, Thompson, along with Jenkins and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, was twice cast into the national spotlight due to health scares in Dallas County. Together, the trio led the county's fight against West Nile virus in 2012 that sickened hundreds and killed 13 as well as the clampdown of Ebola in 2014 after a Liberian traveler tested positive for the deadly virus while visiting Dallas.
According to his bio with the Dallas County Community College District, Thompson earned an associate degree from El Centro College before transferring to the University of Texas at Arlington where he obtained a bachelor's in social work. He went on to earn a master's from Amber University. Thompson's bio also said he is an adjunct professor at DCCC's Eastfield College. The college said last week that Thompson is not currently teaching any classes.
Spencer Scott Law Firm Statement