By Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
Former Charlevoix County Chief-Assistant Prosecutor Shaynee Fanara’s harassment suit against the county and her old boss—former Charlevoix County Prosecutor John Jarema—has been settled.
A dollar amount on the settlement could not be officially verified by press time.
“We’re all glad it’s over with,” said Charlevoix County Board Chairman Joel Evans of the lawsuit that had accused Jarema of a wide range of allegations including Fanara being falsely accused of having sexual relations with male attorneys in exchange for better plea bargains; Jarema threatening to file unfounded complaints against her with the attorney grievance commission; falsely accusing Fanara of submitting false time sheets; falsely accusing her of authorizing warrants in bad faith or without probable cause; failing and/or refusing to register her for a federal student loan payback program; reducing her pay; denying her access to the office; and/or restricting Fanara’s job duties.
Neither the county’s attorney Gretchen Olson, of Plunkett Cooney in Petoskey, nor Fanara’s attorney Kathleen L. Bogas of Bogas, Koncius & Croson, P.C. of Bingham Farms responded to requests for interview by press time.
Jarema—who maintained categorical denial of all accusations throughout the 19 months since the suit was filed, in October 2012—told the Boyne City Gazette last week that he did not want to settle the case.
“This decision was made by weighing all of the options,” said Jarema’s Attorney Debra Lujan, a partner at Collins Einhorn of Southfield. “The (county’s) insurance carrier is the one that makes the final decision as to settlement.”
Lujan said, under the provisions of the settlement, Fanara cannot reapply for employment with Charlevoix County.
“This is a resolution so all parties can go forward with their lives and the insurance carrier can close the file and not ever worry about paying anything more on this,” she said.
Lujan emphatically added, “If you look at the allegations against my client, the words “sexual harassment” never come up. There were never any allegations of a sexual nature—the allegations were more about gender; she claims she was treated differently because of gender—none of it had anything to do with a sexual nature.”
The defendants in the case had filed to have the case summarily dropped but, according to Lujan, Chief United States District Judge Paul L. Maloney indicated that at least some of the case would go forward unless a settlement was reached.
At one point during the suit, the county had sought to be dismissed from the case, citing that it had no control over how Jarema—as an elected official—operated his office. That request, too, was denied.
According to Evans, the county is looking into ways to help avoid future lawsuits.
“We’ve talked about it and it was brought up at one of our board meetings, and we’re in the process of maybe hiring a full-time, in-house civil counsel,” he said. “We have interviewed a couple people already and that was one of the very questions I asked of both of them: ‘What can we do to be proactive and stop this type of frivolous lawsuit? What can we do to nip this in the bud?’”
Evans added, “They both said to ‘Document, document, document’ everything.”
Evans also noted that some sort of early mediation efforts could be useful to help alleviate tensions between employees and their bosses should issues arise.
“We could set people down—the two parties—and try to resolve the issue before it goes into a lawsuit,” he said. “Today I’m very frustrated with our legal system… Anybody can sue anybody at any time and for anything and walk away with thousands of dollars they did not earn.”
Evans added, “It’s just one of those unfortunate things. A lot of people lost a lot of money, lost a lot of time … and this is one of those things I look back at and it never should have happened.”
Lujan said settlements like this one usually contain no appeals process, and the check should be issued within 45 days or so.