State Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell has been accused of sexual harassment. A former employee of the Missouri Department of Agriculture has filed a lawsuit against Ferrell in Cole County Circuit Court. In the lawsuit, Heather Elder accuses Ferrell of touching and kissing her and stating that he would like to see her in a wet T-shirt contest. Elder also claims Ferrell refused to promote her, because she’s a woman.
The allegations by Elder have been bubbling below the surface of state government for some time. It was Elder’s accusations that prompted Governor Blunt to order the State Highway Patrol to investigate Ferrell’s conduct. The governor’s office later admitted that it violated the law by directing the patrol to investigate a sexual harassment case.
A bill filed in the House contained a section that would have given the governor authority to order such investigations, but that section has been removed. Elder has declined comment on the allegations contained in the lawsuit. She appeared at a House committee hearing to speak on the bill. She didn’t speak and left quietly after it was learned that the sponsor had dropped that section.
Elder’s lawsuit countered a lawsuit filed by the Department of Agriculture. The department claims Elder violated terms of an out-of-court settlement. The department claims Elder agreed to receive $70,000, plus money to cover attorney costs, and a letter of recommendation in exchange for her dropping all legal claims against Ferrell and the department. Elder’s attorney denies a settlement had been reached.
Governor Blunt’s spokesman, Jessica Robinson, says the governor was appalled to learn about this inappropriate behavior and moved to terminate Ferrell after learning of the incident unless Ferrell complied with a series of disciplinary sanctions that included apologizing, suspension, appropriate and extensive sensitivity training, professional development and a $10,000 fine as part of the settlement. Ferrell continues to comply with the conditions and will remain on employment probation.