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Ashland Elks settle sexual harassment lawsuit

A woman who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Ashland Elks Lodge has accepted a $25,000 settlement offer, court records show.

The two sides continue to wrangle in Jackson County Circuit Court over attorneys’ fees. Court hearings over those fees and a motion by the plaintiff to redact and seal the case file are scheduled for April 17, according to court documents.

The woman who filed the lawsuit, Victoria Lane, did not return a phone call seeking comment, nor did the lawyers representing her or the Elks.

Lane filed the lawsuit in 2016, saying Elks officials dismissed her concerns and then retaliated when she reported the lodge's cook repeatedly sexually harassed her.

She originally sought $375,000.

In her lawsuit, Lane said she worked for the Elks full time as an events coordinator from 2011 until Feb. 4, 2015, earning $100 per month before her termination.

A lawyer for the Elks argued Lane had no grounds to sue because she was a volunteer events coordinator, not a paid staff member. She was paid $100 monthly as reimbursement for her expenses, according to a response filed in court.

As for the sexual harassment claims, the Elks' lawyer said in the response that Lane "made a number of vague and unspecified accusations and instigated unfounded rumors but she failed to substantiate those accusations."

In her lawsuit, Lane said her supervisor, Fred Hatfield, hired his friend Jim Potter to work as the cook for the Elks. Lane sued Hatfield along with the Ashland Elks Lodge.

Lane alleged that Potter engaged in behavior that included grabbing her, trying to kiss her, leering at her breasts and buttocks, and rubbing against her and making remarks such as, "Was that as good for you as it was for me?"

Lane claims Potter also engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior toward a female bartender and some of the Elks volunteers.

When Lane verbally discouraged Potter's advances, he would make remarks such as, "I'm only teasing," and "Oh, I did not mean to offend you," according to Lane's lawsuit.

A longtime female Elks member who asked to remain anonymous said in 2016 that Potter is a very outgoing, gregarious person, but she had not seen him sexually harass women.

"When he sees you, he gives you hugs and compliments. I've known him for years," she said. "He's an old-school individual who still calls you, 'Honey.' There's nothing sexual. He treats everyone the same. Most of us love him. There's no harm in his behavior."

Lane claimed in her lawsuit that Hatfield joined Potter in the inappropriate behavior and remarks, including a comment about licking her.

Lane said she was also uncomfortable about what she called a sexually explicit painting of a teenage girl in the lodge. She said sexually explicit burlesque shows were put on by the Elks and she repeatedly complained and said the shows violated Elks statutes.

In 2012, the Ashland Elks Lodge hosted fundraising shows by Speakeasy and the Silhouettes, a burlesque group, according to the Ashland Elks December 2012 newsletter.

Hatfield and another Elks member who was not sued were listed as the contacts for ticket sales in the newsletter.

Lane said that from early 2012 into 2015, she repeatedly reported sexual harassment in the workplace to Hatfield and the Elks' trustees.

Lane said the Elks formed a sexual harassment committee, which included female members, in 2014, but nothing was done about Potter's behavior.

The lawsuit alleges her reports about Potter's actions "only provoked an escalation of his inappropriate behavior and attitude toward her."

Lane said Elks officials and some members began to shun her, and she was advised by various Elks officials to quit her post as events coordinator, avoid Potter or file a report.

In December 2014, Elks officials met and concluded she was making false allegations of sexual harassment, the lawsuit states.

She was terminated as the events coordinator Feb. 4, 2015, according to the lawsuit.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.