A former court reporter who filed a county complaint against Judge Michael Sage earlier this year claiming retaliation after their nine-year affair ended has filed a sex discrimination claim with the U.S Employment Opportunity Commission.
Jennifer Olivier filed the complaint against Butler County in October stating, “beginning on Dec. 17, 2011 I was subjected to quid pro quo harassment, a hostile work environment and retaliation because of my sex. My pay was reduced, my office was moved, I was left out of office meetings and treated differently by managers and co-workers.”
Olivier and three other court reporters lost their jobs last month when six of the seven common pleas judges voted to end the court reporter program to save $200,000 annually from its budget. County commissioners had asked the court to cut 5 percent out of its proposed $4 million general fund budget for 2013.
The pending EEOC complaint was enough to make one judge vote against laying off the court reporters, according to minutes of the Nov. 28 meeting which were approved Wednesday.
According to the meeting minutes, “Judge Spaeth reiterated his position on the court reporter program as a possible appearance of impropriety given the pending EEOC complaint.”
Spaeth voted against eliminating court reporters along with Judge Patricia Oney. Oney’s reasoning was different, questioning the current technology in the courtrooms to record accuratly and the ability to receive transcripts quickly, she previously told the JournalNews.
The judges also considered making cuts in the probation department.
Judge Andrew Nastoff indicated reducing the of staff in the probation department would be more detrimental than terminating the court reporter program due to increased responsibility and case load that has come with changes in the law, according to the meeting minutes.
Judge Noah Powers made the motion to terminate the program stating, “I recognize that this action will result in hardship to those who will lose their jobs, but I feel that we have little or no alternative.”
“As I understand it, the court reporter program was thrust upon the court by politics and pressure from the bar association. It is a very expensive program for the court, costing us and taxpayers, by any conservative estimate, more that a quarter million dollars per year. Unquestionably, that system does provide benefits, such as real time reporting, for the court, counsel and the parties. However, having live court reporters for every case is a luxury we can no longer afford,” Powers said in his motion.
Sage did not attend the meeting.
Administrative Judge Charles Pater said the court reporter program elimination was not personal, but that it was a decision made to do their part in balancing the county’s budget.
“We did it the way that made the most since,’ Pater said, noting the court reporters’ function can be performed by recording machinery.
The county will soon hire, through a bid process, a company or outside individuals to produce transcripts.
According to Gary Yates, court administrator, the complaint has been turned over to the Cincinnati firm of Montgomery Rennie and Jonson employment, labor and civil rights attorneys.
Olivier and the other court reporters remain county employees through the end of the month, but are not in the courtrooms. They are completing already started transcript work from home.
Olivier told The JournalNews Friday, “Technically I am still employed until Dec. 31 and as such, I was previously admonished by Gary Yates that I am not allowed to talk to anyone about it.”
In the county complaint that resulted in no disciplinary action, Olivier said Sage pursued a personal relationship with her in 2003. She said their relationship ended in December 2011 and after the breakup, Sage’s employees were rude to her.
Additionally, Olivier alleged Yates and other court administrators treated her unfairly after the breakup, specifically implementing a plan to rotate court reporters.
Following a three-month investigation, Reynoldsburg attorney Scott Warrick, who was hired by the county, concluded Olivier was the creator of a hostile work environment.
Warrick said Sage did not deny the affair, but recommended no discipline for the judge or the other employees, including Olivier.
The court reporting system was also debated in 2005 when some judges favored eliminating the program as a cost savings. At that time, Sage strongly opposed removing court reporters from courtrooms.
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