An Evansville woman says she was fired from her job at the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office after she refused the advances of the county prosecutor, who she alleges handcuffed her, showed her a gun and tried to prevent her from leaving his hotel room during a business trip.
Attorneys for Samantha Merideth filed the federal lawsuit Friday naming Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann and the county as defendants. It alleges that Hermann retaliated against Merideth after the alleged hotel incident and unfairly fired her last year. She’s seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.
In her lawsuit, Merideth alleges that during a 2013 business trip to Chicago, Hermann made inappropriate comments during dinner and asked her back to his hotel room for a drink. There, Hermann allegedly put her in handcuffs in his room, put a gun on the room’s desk and blocked her attempt to leave his room.
The suit contends that Hermann then picked Merideth up, threw her over his shoulder and carried her back to a chair before she eventually fled the room, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.
“Upon returning to work, Samantha was subjected to defamatory rumors, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. Samantha refuses to be taken advantage of and refuses to let Nicholas Hermann escape justice,” Merideth’s attorneys said in a news release.
In a statement issued by his office, Hermann denied making advances toward Merideth and said he “adamantly” disagrees with her account of their interaction. He said Merideth told him later that he had made her uncomfortable, but that this was not his intention. Hermann said he and his office would not comment further about the lawsuit because it is pending.
Merideth said she continued to work at the prosecutor’s office until last year because the job was fulfilling and offered good benefits, and she didn’t feel she should have to resign. An eight-year employee, she began as a secretary and served in various capacities. She was a case manager in the Adult Protective Services division at the time of her termination, according to her suit.
She alleges in her suit that she was forced to resign as soon as Hermann — a Republican who was first elected prosecutor in 2010 — started a new four-year term as prosecutor in January 2019, and that her ouster amounted to wrongful termination.
The suit alleges that when she arrived for work on Jan. 2, 2019, she attempted to log in to her computer but was denied access. When she asked about it, the suit says, “Merideth’s supervisor and the finance director confined Ms. Merideth in the (Adult Protective Services) office, refused to allow Ms. Merideth to use the restroom facility, and made her sign resignation paperwork that was already drafted when presented to Ms. Merideth.” She then was allegedly escorted from the office.
“Merideth’s termination was carefully orchestrated so that she would not be fired before Hermann’s election in order to manage the risk of Ms. Merideth exposing Hermann prior to election day,” the suit alleges. “The decision to terminate Ms. Merideth on Hermann’s first day of his new term was made because the political risk was minimized, Ms. Merideth could be discredited, and it was the earliest time of his new term that the termination could take place.”
Meredith’s suit also alleges that “since the Chicago incident, Hermann has victimized other women in the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office.”
Merideth filed complaints over the accusations last May with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Evansville Vanderburgh County Human Relations Commission. The suit says the EEOC provided Merideth a right to sue letter in November.