Sexual harassment claims made against Raleigh County Board of Education candidate

Millard Francis (Register-Herald file photo)

Allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against a former Raleigh County Schools employee, who is running for a seat on the county's Board of Education. 

The allegations were made by a current female employee for Raleigh County Schools against Millard Francis, known locally by his nickname "Spanky."

According to a civil suit complaint filed April 24 against the Raleigh County Board of Education and Francis, the employee alleges Francis took part in sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, violations of public policy and willful misconduct. 

Francis is the former director of attendance for Raleigh County Schools. The employee who filed the complaint has worked as a truancy specialist for the Raleigh County School system — a position under Francis, which essentially made him her direct supervisor. 

According to the filed complaint, Francis succeeded several times in making "unwanted contact of a sexual nature" before the employee was able to fight him off, while on other occasions the employee was able to stop Francis from making unwanted sexual contact, but only by a physical means. 

The misconduct was investigated and substantiated by an outside law firm hired by the Raleigh County Board of Education to investigate the employee's complaints. 

Some of the complaints included Francis pulling down the woman's clothing in an attempt to see her exposed body; Francis placing his hand up her skirt in an unwanted attempt to feel her buttocks; and Francis placing his hand down her shirt in an unwanted attempt to feel her breasts.  

Other allegations included Francis biting the employee and repeatedly trying to kiss her. It also cited an overnight trip with the employee and other employees from the Raleigh County School system, during which the employee alleges Francis asked her if she would come to his hotel room, asked her about her favorite wine and stated he wanted to give her a "massage."

The civil complaint stated Francis was so physically aggressive at times he left marks on the employee, including but not limited to a time he left a bruise on one of her nipples after he forcefully grabbed her, which she physically resisted. 

Francis allegedly engaged in these acts of sexual misconduct in the workplace during working hours almost immediately after the employee was hired in August 2014, the complaint stated. His misconduct, according to the suit, most often occurred in the office and in vehicles while he and the employee were traveling together for professional reasons, such as school visits. The complaint stated Francis allegedly "groped" her while she drove, or if Francis drove he often would stop in secluded areas where he would verbally and physically pressure her to engage in unwanted physical acts with him. 

Francis sent written messages to the employee asking for sexual contact with her. The complaint stated the messages consisted of Francis repeatedly asking to be invited to her home, for her to wear certain types of clothing, and even of references from a workplace sexual harassment video to ask the employee for sex. 

In the messages, the employee would often deflect Francis' actions by reminding him she "always says no," that she was "not worth it," or by trying to joke before moving back to a work discussion. Francis often messaged the employee back trying to convince her otherwise, the complaint stated. 

On one occasion, when the employee rejected Francis, he sent her a message stating, "Your work schedule will get difficult," in which he took punitive action against her by not giving her access to the same workplace resources as other employees, refusing to speak with her over professional matters, and threatening to take away significant job duties that were required of her to maintain her employment. 

According to the complaint, Francis, who is married, verbally told the employee it was "racist" of her to not engage in an affair with him since he is an African American man and she is Caucasian. The employee took this as a threat because she did not know if Francis would somehow allege she had "engaged in some made up racial misconduct" risking her employment. 

It was also stated Francis knew the employee had no other form of income other than her position with Raleigh County Schools, and she often spent money obtaining degrees and certifications allowing her to become a school counselor and truancy interventionist. With no other comparable employment in the area, given her specialized background, the employee did not report the actions until August 2019, in fear she would lose her job, the complaint stated. 

J.B. Akers, the employee's attorney, told The Register-Herald the employee reported the sexual harassment allegations to the Raleigh County Board of Education's supervisory personnel in August 2019, and Francis stated the employee was making overtures to him or, alternatively, she must have wanted his job.

However, the employee has not applied for Francis' position since it has been open two separate times since Raleigh County Schools suspended him Aug. 20, 2019, after the sexual harassment claims were made. The employee then received a letter in September 2019 from the Raleigh County Board of Education acknowledging her complaint of sexual harassment. 

Akers reported in October 2019, the Raleigh County Board of Education was scheduled to hold a hearing with witnesses and documentation of the employee's complaints to determine if administrative action were to be taken against Francis. However, prior to the hearing, Francis' personal attorney called to say Francis chose to retire, therefore canceling the hearing. 

"Right now, Mr. Francis is a candidate on the ballot for the Raleigh County Board of Education," Akers explained. "These allegations made are serious allegations, and since he is running for public office, we felt it was important for the public to know." 

Akers added that if Francis was voted onto the Raleigh County Board of Education, he would often have to have contact with the employee who filed the allegations and be present in board meetings with her. 

"Like I said, these are serious allegations, this isn't just a 'he said, she said' type of thing, there is proof, and the public needs to know," he said.

Attorney Chip Williams, representing the Raleigh County Board of Education on this matter, told The Register-Herald any time an allegation is made against a board employee, there is a legal theory where they are responsible for the complaints made. 

"It is difficult because it's an employment action and issue for us, so I think to an extent we can't say anything at this time about the allegations made in the complaint," Williams said. "When she (the employee) reported the issues to the central office, it was taken very seriously and investigated, and that's about all I can say at this point." 

Williams added he is not able to comment on the findings of the investigation at this time, but a full response to the complaint is required within 30 days after the complaint is filed. 

Francis has worked in the Raleigh County Schools system for nearly 30 years, in professional and coaching positions. Francis did not return telephone calls and emails by The Register-Herald.

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jhatfieldRH

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