Dallas County

Dallas County Settles Sex Harassment Claim Against Former Health Chief

Zach Thompson became the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services in 2003.
Zach Thompson became the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services in 2003. Brian Maschino
The Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved a $120,000 payment to settle a lawsuit brought against the former head of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

The vote came 11 months after the county fired longtime health department chief Zach Thompson following sexual harassment allegations by a subordinate employee at the agency.

"I endured the abuse because I was fearful of losing my job if I refused his approaches." — Lynette Smith-Clay

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"Zachary Thompson’s pattern of coerced sexual abuse, harassment, and intimidation began in 2013," Lynette Smith-Clay wrote in a statement provided by her law firm in January. "I endured the abuse because I was fearful of losing my job if I refused his approaches; he had made it clear on multiple occasions with comments such as 'you do like your job, right?' and 'where do you think you’ll go where you can make as much money as you make here?' and 'I’m your boss.'

"I began intentionally avoiding him, especially at the end of the day; making excuses as to why I couldn’t work in evenings; ensuring to walk with other colleagues to the parking lot; and not working late when his car was there," Smith-Clay wrote.

After she rebuffed his physical attacks, Thompson retaliated, Smith-Clay said, changing her job title, work hours and parking space. Thompson wrote her up for bad job performance six times from 2015 to '17, Smith-Clay said, making her fear for her job. After missing a deadline to file a reply to Thompson's claims, Smith-Clay successfully filed a grievance against Thompson in December 2017.

In her statement, Smith-Clay said Dallas County's human resources department "callously and ineptly" mishandled the grievance. The department's interim director, Urmit Graham, who declined to comment when reached by the Observer in January, threatened her with a polygraph and asked if she "like[d] men in power," she said. It wasn't until she hired a lawyer, Smith-Clay said, that the county fired Thompson in January.

Thompson's lawyer Anthony Lyons denied the allegations against his client earlier this year.

"This is not Zachary Thompson. This is not the director of the Department of Health and Human Services who has served for 20 years. He's had an impeccable reputation for the last 20 years as an employee of Dallas County. He denies and continues to deny any violations of county policy," Lyons told the Observer.

Smith-Clay sued Thompson and the county in August. Her attorney Jennifer Spencer did not return a request for comment from the Observer on Tuesday.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young