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Sexual harassment lawsuit filed against former Eau Claire County district attorney

Suit alleges Gary King violated civil rights of woman who worked in county Victim Witness Office

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A federal lawsuit has been filed against former Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King, alleging he sexually harassed a woman he supervised.

The lawsuit alleges King violated the employee’s rights to equal protection. It seeks unspecified compensatory damages for permanent emotional harm.

The suit was filed by Jessica Bryan, who worked closely with King as a victim witness coordinator for Eau Claire County. King resigned as district attorney in August 2021 following a county-led sexual harassment investigation.

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Bryan’s lawsuit alleges King made numerous sexually harassing comments between August 2019 and November 2020. Those included instances where King suggested the two get a hotel room on the way to a breakfast meeting and have a “threesome” with a man who lived behind the county courthouse, according to the suit and the county’s investigation. There were also occasions, according to the suit and investigation, where King pulled Bryan onto his lap, rubbed her foot when she had taken off her shoes and hugged her from behind while she sat at her desk while attempting to kiss her on her mouth.

Bryan’s suit also alleges King was “frequently intoxicated while engaging in his abusive conduct.”

Paul Kinne, an attorney for Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs who is representing Bryan in the suit, said his client was entitled to work in an environment free of sexual harassment and assault and that she felt she was obligated to tolerate the harassment because of concern “about what it would do to her job if she complained about it more vociferously.”

“In other words, she hoped that by telling him to stop and showing him how much it hurt her, he would stop,” said Kinne. “But he didn’t.”

Bryan’s lawsuit also states that in February 2021, when she made a formal complaint to Eau Claire County human resources, she was told by the county’s corporation counsel that because King was the district attorney, the county “could not touch him.”

Kinne said Bryan wants justice for herself, but she also hopes to be an example for other women who endure harassment for fear of what might happen to their jobs or careers.

“She hopes that by going forward with this action, she will make it easier for women in her situation to step forward and also make it less likely that people like Mr. King will engage in the kind of conduct that we saw here.” said Kinne.

King didn’t respond to calls seeking comment on the lawsuit.