Former major files sexual harassment lawsuit against Chester Co. sheriff

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. - Channel 9 learned that a sexual harassment lawsuit has been filed against Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood.

Former Maj. Mary Anne Tolbert filed the lawsuit Friday accusing Underwood of unwanted sexual contact.

Tolbert left the Sheriff's Office earlier this year.

Underwood was sworn in as Chester County’s sheriff in January 2013 and according to the lawsuit, he and Tolbert had a romantic relationship that lasted less than a year in 2005.

The lawsuit states that Tolbert had no contact with Underwood from the time their relationship ended until he became sheriff.

In the lawsuit, Tolbert claimed the sheriff created situations where they had to work alone together and gave her work that required her to be in his office.

She claims Underwood kissed her in his office and put her hand on his privates. She said she told him that he should not be doing that and that she did not consent to his advances, according to the lawsuit.

Tolbert also alleged that the sheriff would require her to ride with him in his county vehicle and that he told her that the only reason she had a job was because of him.

On several occasions, Tolbert said she was required to have sex with Underwood against her will.

There were no criminal charges being filed and Tolbert said there was no rape and that there wasn’t physical force. She alleges that Underwood coerced her into having sex using his position of authority and that she feared for her job.

In the claim, she said she would close her eyes and pretend it wasn’t happening. Tolbert claimed this happened over several months.

Tolbert said in the complaint that she took medical leave last fall due to the stress of the situation with Underwood, and the growing work load he had placed on her.
 
When she returned to work, Tolbert said she refused his sexual advances and he began to retaliate.
 
Tolbert accuses Underwood of denying her promotions that she was in line for, belittling her and berating her in front of other officers, and intimidation.
 
She took medical leave again in April after going to Chester County human resources and reporting her complaints to officials there.
 
She has not returned to work at the sheriff's office.
 
On Monday, Tolbert's attorney, Janet Rhodes of Columbia, South Carolina sent Channel 9 this statement: 'We are confident that justice will prevail and this litigation will help to remedy the substantial harm done to Mary Anne."
 
The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive damages in an amount determined by the court for conduct described as, "Extreme and outrageous as to exceed all bounds of decency and must be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable."
 
Tolbert said the results of alleged conduct are pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, damages to her relationship with her son, impairment to her mind and medical bills and costs.
 
Tolbert did not file criminal charges.
 
A court date has not been set.