A federal lawsuit filed by a former Front Royal employee against the town alleging sexual harassment and retaliation has entered another phase in the courts.
Jennifer Berry, former clerk of the Town Council, claims in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia that she experienced discrimination based on sex, unlawful retaliation and a retaliatory, hostile work environment. The lawsuit also claims the town violated the Family Medical Leave Act when she took an absence for a surgical procedure but still worked from home but then had her position cut to part-time and then eliminated.
The town has refuted Berry's claims.
Berry seeks damages including back pay and lost employment benefits. She also seeks compensatory damages against the town but leaves a jury to decide on an amount. The lawsuit also asks for relief, to include: reinstatement to her employment or pay; expungement of any adverse matters from her personnel record, the enjoining and permanent restraining of these violations. The lawsuit also asks the court to direct town management to take steps to eliminate the alleged unlawful practices and not affect her future employment opportunities.
Heather K. Bardot, an attorney with the Fairfax law firm Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath and Judkins, represents the town in the lawsuit. Attorneys for the Virginia law firm Shelley Cupp Schulte represent Berry.
Berry worked as a town employee from 1998-2003, first as an administrative assistant in the Department of Public Works and as clerk of the Town Council from 2005-2020.
U.S. District Judge Thomas T. Cullen referred the case to Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe to conduct mediation proceedings, according to an order filed on Monday in the court. The order states that Hoppe shall schedule a mediation after consulting the parties.
“The parties are advised that any information exchanged during the mediation is confidential and shall not be shared with any other officer of the court,” the order states. “Mediation shall proceed independently of all other pretrial development and shall not modify or stay any scheduling provisions of any pretrial order.”
Hoppe entered an order also filed Monday scheduling a Nov. 18 settlement conference. Hoppe advised that parties should come prepared to provide brief presentations of the facts and legal highlights of the case, then participate in separate, confidential meetings with the judge. The order further explains the process and requirements.
“Prior to the settlement conference, the parties should make good faith efforts to negotiate and settle the case,” Hoppe’s order states. “Specific proposals and counter proposals beyond the initial offer and demand should be exchanged.”
The judge can cancel the conference if a party doesn’t want to participate in the evaluative approach, the order states. Parties then may enter private mediation, according to the order.