WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — After facing accusations of misspending taxpayer money, the Walton County Commission is now facing an explosive sexual harassment lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by former Assistant County Attorney, Heather Maxwell. Maxwell was employed by the county from around November 2017 until July 2021.
Maxwell is alleging, current County Commissioner, William “Boots” McCormick, made romantic advances towards her and had her fired after rejecting him. The lawsuit goes on to say the BOCC fostered an “arrogant, above-the-law, callous, good-ole-boys” environment by putting her in uncomfortable situations.
One of the situations mentioned in the lawsuit is about an unnamed current county commissioner who called Maxwell one night around late February/early March 2020 and said he had a problem. The lawsuit said the commissioner dropped off a completely naked, intoxicated, married, former female employee of Walton County on Maxwell’s doorstep for her to take care of.
According to the document, the same unnamed commissioner reportedly continued the inappropriate behavior by sending racially derogatory text messages to Maxwell and other employees. Maxwell said the commissioner used “N-word” and referred to African Americans as “monkeys” while on a county business trip.
The lawsuit specifically names McCormick, Commissioners Danny Glidewell, Michael Barker and Trey Nick.
Attorneys for Maxwell also accused Barker and Glidewell of conspiring to have Maxwell fired because of the situation between Maxwell and McCormick.
According to the lawsuit, in late June 2021, Maxwell traveled to Orlando for a conference with other county employees and BOCC members including McCormick. During the trip, the lawsuit said McCormick bought Maxwell several cocktails over friendly conversation.
After the trip, Maxwell said she began receiving text messages in early July 2021 from McCormick. He reportedly texted her from his private number and told her he found her “very attractive and smart.” In the text provided by Maxwell, McCormick also said he felt like they were smart enough to “navigate between private and work,” and that he would leave “the degree of the relationship” in her hands.
Other text messages provided by Maxwell in the lawsuit show McCormick asking to take her to dinner on her birthday and asking if he could say hi to her child who works at a local grocery store or if he needed to remain a “mystery.”
On July 7th, 2021, Maxwell texted McCormick and said she thought it would be best if the two just remained friends. By July 20th, she had been fired.
Maxwell traveled to Washington D.C. for county business from July 8th until July 12th. When she got back former County Administrator Dede Hinote, reportedly called Maxwell and told her she may be fired when she got back from her trip.
Hinote specifically mentioned to Maxwell that while she was in Washington D.C. Commissioners Michael Barker and Danny Glidewell told Deputy County Administrator, Larry Jones to terminate Maxwell.
The lawsuit alleges Barker and Glidewell did so because of Maxwell’s gender and her rejecting McCormick’s romantic advances. Attorneys for Maxwell said based on information and belief, McCormick disclosed his pursuit of Maxwell to Barker and Glidewell and likely her rejection.
Attorneys believe McCormick either requested Barker and Glidewell’s actions or, the request to fire Maxwell was done on their own.
The lawsuit alleges Barker’s reported actions were done with specific intent based on a 2010 incident when he was a captain with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2010, Barker was forced to resign from his position as a captain after reportedly having an inappropriate relationship with a female employee in his chain of command. The internal affairs report from the Sheriff’s office included in the lawsuit says the employee never turned down Barker because he always reminded her, he was the boss. The report says the first time the employee turned Barker down, she was demoted a few days later.
Based on the report, WCSO Undersheriff, Bill Chapman, said he would have fired Barker had he not resigned.
The lawsuit accuses Barker and Glidewell of violating Florida Sunshine Laws, violating prohibitions against county commissioners directing day-to-day operations of the county, violating county personnel policies and discriminating and retaliating against Maxwell for being the recipient of and rejecting McCormick’s advances.
Attorneys for Maxwell and Maxwell met with County Attorney Clay Adkinson, Commissioner Trey Nick and Jones on July 19th and disclosed relevant information related to Maxwell’s rejection of McCormick and Barker and Glidewell’s alleged inappropriate involvement in her termination. The county sent Maxwell a termination letter on July 20th.
The lawsuit claims the termination letter did not provide any explanation or reasons for Maxwell’s termination. The document accuses county officials of not following several policies regarding progressive discipline, review of Maxwell’s personnel file, determination of just cause of affording a pre-disciplinary hearing.
The County did offer an explanation in its Statement of Position. County officials claim Maxwell did not complete discovery responses for a significant land use litigation matter where Maxwell was representing the county.
The lawsuit says the responses were due July 12th but on July 7th, Maxwell emailed Adkinson asking for his assistance on the matter. She reportedly told Adkinson she would and could file for an extension if he told her to. He allegedly never responded.
The only other reported reason for Maxwell’s termination was a “consistent lack of performance” by Maxwell from staff. However, the lawsuit claims there was no supporting documentation, statements or identity of such alleged staff members reporting the same.
The lawsuit also points out less than a month after Maxwell’s termination, former Deputy County Administrator, Stan Sunday, was reportedly accused of far worse offenses than Maxwell. Sunday was given the opportunity to resign from his position and continue to be employed via paid leave and be paid his approximately $150,000 salary including all benefits until September 23rd, 2022.
Maxwell is demanding a trial by jury. Hinote is expected to testify according to the lawsuit.
News 13 reached out to the entire Board of County Commissioners via phone and email requesting comments. We did not hear back.
News 13 also reached out to Walton County’s Public Information Officer, Rachel Jenkins, for comment. Jenkins said they do not comment on pending legal matters.
We have also requested comment from Maxwell’s attorneys and have not heard back.
We are also waiting on a records request from the county containing text messages from July 2021 and Maxwell’s personnel file.
To read the full complaint, affidavit from Hinote and other exhibits, see below.