A former employee of the Columbus United Service Organizations office has filed a lawsuit alleging she was the victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault by retired Maj. Gen. Jerry White.
The woman, identified in her complaint only as “Jane Doe,” filed a suit more than a month ago in Muscogee County Superior Court against White, the USO Council of Georgia and AFCO Realty LLC, which owns and operates the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel on Victory Drive.
White, the driving force behind the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park, announced his retirement as president of the National Infantry Foundation at a Nov. 17 board meeting, more than three weeks after the suit was filed by Columbus attorneys Gwyn P. Newsome and Samuel W. Worthington III.
White -- represented by Columbus attorney Jorge Vega of Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis, Rothschild LLP -- denied all allegations in a response to the complaint. Jennifer Wolak of the Atlanta firm of Fields, Howell, Athans & McLaughlin LLP is representing the USO and White and declined comment Friday.
Never miss a local story.
Columbus attorney Joe Waldrep is representing AFCO and also declined comment, saying AFCO’s response will be filed with the court early next week.
White, 73, declined comment Friday. In his answer to the complaint, White’s attorneys denied all allegations against the former Fort Benning commander.
Vega said the timing of White’s retirement, which is effective at the end of the year, was not related to the lawsuit.
“Absolutely not,” Vega said.
Ben Williams is executive director of the National Infantry Foundation, which owns and operates the $100 million museum.
Williams said he did not know about the suit until recently, but White had been talking about retirement for several months.
The museum and foundation were not named in the lawsuit.
“That is an important distinction,” Williams said.
The woman is asking for “at least $500” in damages for medical expenses, according to the suit.
She worked as director of USO Columbus from September 2009 until July 7. She was also general manager and marketing director for the hotel from March 2008 until March of this year.
White is chairman of the board of the USO Columbus office, which was housed in the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel.
“My client is very concerned, not only about what happened to her, but her reputation in the community, which she feels has been severely damaged by Gen. White,” Newsome said.
Though the woman alleged possible criminal misconduct by White, Newsome said she was unaware of any criminal complaint being filed.
The woman outlined what she claims is a pattern of harassment and worse in the 19-page complaint. She also claims that the USO and AFCO failed to provide her with “a safe workplace,” according to the complaint.
The woman “was repeatedly instructed by Defendant USO’s President and CEO Mary Lou Austin that she was to report to Defendant White ... and she should do whatever it took to please Defendant White.”
A similar complaint was lodged against AFCO President and CEO Sam Friedman, the suit claims.
Friedman instructed her she was to report to White and “she was to please Defendant White no matter what.”
White made unwanted sexual advances, made offensive phone calls and sent offensive text messages and e-mails, according to the complaint.
The woman claims she made numerous complaints to Austin about White’s behavior, according to the suit. Austin told her to “placate” White, according to the complaint.
“The USO and AFCO, jointly and severely, failed and refused to take prompt and appropriate remedial action to stop and prevent Defendant White’s illegal conduct,” according to the suit.
The woman graphically describes an incident in February when she claims White sexually assaulted her in a room at the hotel, according to the suit.
The woman went with another female employee and White to a room White complained had not been properly cleaned and smelled bad.
As the woman was inspecting the room, the other employee left and White then made a sexual advance, according to the suit.
“You’re going to do this whether you like it or not,” the woman claims in the suit that White told her.
White then physically overpowered her, according to the suit.
The woman managed to get away from White and as she was leaving the room, he told her “no one would ever believe her if she told anyone what had just happened,” according to the suit.
White called her that night, the woman claims, and threatened her.
The complaints included: “You will never work in this town again. I’m the best friend you got. You wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for me. You owe me. I will hurt you.”
The woman was “terrified” by White’s threats, the suit claims.
White “retaliated” in June by placing the woman on probation. On June 7, the woman filed a formal complaint against White with Austin and USO, the suit claims.
The woman claims she was “fired,” which said she was being laid off because of funding issues with the Columbus office, the suit claims.