- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant announced Tuesday that by executive order, he’s requiring all state employees to take online training in sexual harassment awareness and prevention.

“This should be a low-cost alternative to expensive seminars and provide a standard of prevention in this litigious society,” Bryant said.

The move comes months after the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee against the bureau and its deputy director.

“Everyone deserves a workplace free from intimidation and hostility,” Bryant said on his Facebook page. “I will not tolerate sexual harassment in those agencies that fall under my control.”

State employees must complete the 30-minute course on the Mississippi State Personnel Board website by June 30. It provides examples and definitions, noting, among other things, that “sexual harassment is not limited to members of the opposite sex.”

The course also says sexual harassment can occur among co-workers outside the office. For example, it says it could be harassment if one employee reaches over to buckle another employee’s seatbelt in a state vehicle and intentionally touches her breasts. And if a male employee posts pictures of himself on Twitter and a female co-worker replies with sexual comments about him, that too could be sexual harassment, if the behavior has an effect on the work environment.

Mary Katherine Sullivan, the former Bureau of Narcotics employee, alleged that throughout her employment, she had been subjected or exposed to sexual comments, dirty jokes and sexual propositions by deputy director Mike Perkins, and that his offensive behavior escalated after she asked him to stop.

“Despite his leadership position, Perkins’ office at MBN headquarters is conspicuously adorned with a certificate he received from sexual harassment training with the word failed stamped in large print. The plaintiff and other female employees have seen this certificate on numerous occasions while conducting business at headquarters,” the lawsuit said.

Sullivan’s lawsuit also said that Perkins, in her presence, would rank potential female employees he was interviewing for employment with a sexually motivated number system, with the higher the number the more physically attractive to him. She said it was widely known at MBN as the “Perkins Scale.”

Perkins retired in August, two months after the lawsuit was settled.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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