Federal civil suit filed against former Eau Claire County DA

Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 2:08 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Former Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King is being sued in federal court over allegations he sexually harassed a woman he worked closely with for more than a year.

The civil complaint was filed Wednesday in the Western District of Wisconsin.

The plaintiff is listed as Jessica Bryan. Bryan works as the Victim Witness Coordinator in the Victim Witness Office for Eau Claire County. The complaint says, “In her role, she worked closely with the Eau Claire District Attorney’s Office. Institutionally speaking, the District Attorney controlled, at least in part, the terms and conditions of Bryan’s employment with Eau Claire County.”

Bryan declined to comment on the filing referring WEAU to her attorney, Madison-based attorney Paul Kinne with Gingras Thomsen & Wachs LLP. His firm usually represents personal injury plaintiffs.

In a conversation with WEAU, Kinne made it clear that the decision to file the complaint was based on abuses Bryan says she experienced at the hands of King.

“She’s going forward in part because she was harmed by someone in a position of power,” Kinne said. “She wants what she deserves to compensate for the harm; the perfect compensation would be turning back time and making sure it never happens, but that’s not possible, obviously.”

Bryan filed a complaint about King’s behavior with Eau Claire County’s office of Human Resources in February 2021. The federal filing claims, “Around mid-February 2021, Bryan made a formal complaint to Eau Claire County human resources. However, at some point, Corporation Counsel for Eau Claire County informed Bryan that because King was the District Attorney, Eau Claire County ‘could not touch him.’”

Tim Sullivan with Eau Claire County Corporation Counsel clarified in an e-mail the relationship between the D.A. and the county, based on statute, “Because a district attorney is an elected official of the state, the county does not have the authority to fire or discipline a district attorney.” Sullivan went on to write, “Officials at the state were contacted after [receiving] the county received the initial complaint. Information from the results of our investigation was shared with the DOJ.”

A third-party investigation ordered that month by the HR department concluded by March that “King did make inappropriate comments to women, notably [redacted], which made them uncomfortable.” The offending actions described in that report are duplicated in the federal filing.

Gov. Tony Evers appointed a commissioner to investigate the claims of abuse made against King in June; less than a month later, King submitted his resignation effective August 14, and the investigation was dropped by the governor’s office. Peter Rindal was appointed as King’s replacement in August.

Kinne said Bryan “wants to be someone who stands up against conduct of like that. She wants to be a role model to women out there who face abuse people from people in power. She wants them to know through her example that it’s possible to stand up to them and to make the world and the workplace … a safer place for women.”

Messages left for King at a landline phone number and a cell phone have not been returned.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after initial publication to add a statement from the Corporation Counsel’s office.

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