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Fired Kansas Highway Patrol majors allege ‘hostile work environment,’ retaliation in federal suit

Andrew Bahl and Titus Wu
The Topeka Capital-Journal
A federal lawsuit filed Friday alleged top Kansas Highway Patrol officials retaliated against two majors who were dismissed from the agency earlier this year.

Two former, high-ranking Kansas Highway Patrol officers filed a federal lawsuit Friday, arguing their firing from the agency violated federal law and came as retaliation for helping female employees report a “hostile work environment” created by top officials.

The court filing on behalf of former majors Scott Harrington and Josh Kellerman say that KHP Col. Herman Jones and Lt. Col. Jason De Vore repeatedly discriminated against female employees and engaged in sexual harassment against them.

When Harrington and Kellerman attempted to help women file formal complaints against Jones and De Vore, they say they received pushback from the top brass.

The filings allege Jones at one point told Harrington in 2019 that “if you are subversive, if I catch wind of you being subversive, you will be gone and will not have a seat at this table.”

And the pair say their First Amendment rights were violated when they were terminated in part for discussing the alleged culture issues with those outside the agency, including state legislators.

Harrington resigned earlier this year under pressure, while Kellerman was demoted and then dismissed.

Both argued they were slowly eroded of duties they previously enjoyed, even before their termination.

Harrington, for instance, argued he was unable to attend the FBI National Academy due to his run ins with top officers. When he confronted Jones about the move, Harrington said he was told the colonel was going to “deal with” those not in his “canoe.”

After their dismissals, there were calls to investigate Jones and KHP.

But an investigation ordered from the governor’s office found no wrongdoing, and an audit from the Kansas Legislature also said no policy was broken when Harrington and Kellerman were relieved of their duties.

Jones, formerly Shawnee County sheriff, was appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly in 2019. Kelly had called Jones the “right man for the job” after the previous KHP superintendent was involved in a scandal where he didn’t discipline an officer engaged in domestic violence.

A spokesperson for Kelly said KHP leadership continues to have her support, arguing that the allegations raised “are not new and have been previously investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.”

For over a year, Harrington and Kellerman said that numerous female employees came to them with charges of harassment or untoward behavior by Jones and De Vore.

One employee said she was inappropriately touched by Jones and, after complaining about the action, the colonel touched her again, saying “there, I take it back.”

Later, Harrington alleged Jones entered a KHP restroom and compared liquid hand soap to semen. Another woman said he messaged her images which were of a “graphic sexual nature and were offensive to her.”

It was also charged that Jones made “inappropriate sexual comment, accompanied with sexual body gestures” to a group of female employees at the KHP academy.

The suit also repeats allegations made in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed by Harrington last month.

In that filing, Harrington said Will Lawrence, Gov. Laura Kelly’s chief of staff, would only agree to pay out accrued sick leave if he dropped a previous discrimination complaint against KHP.

KHP did not immediately return a request for comment.