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Watertown prison employee claims superintendent sexually harassed her

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A female employee at Watertown Correctional Facility has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was sexually harassed by the prison’s now-retired superintendent.

Kristine E. Crossway, 45, filed action in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, in October against the prison, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and former Watertown Superintendent Ekpe D. Ekpe.

According to the suit, Ms. Crossway was hired at the prison as a switchboard operator in February 2008 and later promoted to captain’s secretary. She claims that shortly after she started work, Mr. Ekpe began showing a “personal interest” in her, giving her unsolicited gifts and hugging her. By April 2009, she claims, the hugs had become “sexually charged,” with Mr. Ekpe pressing himself against her and making sexually explicit comments to her.

Ms. Crossway maintains that she “made it known” to Mr. Ekpe that his gestures and comments were unwelcome. She claims that, to prevent her from making a formal complaint to the prison’s human resources department, Mr. Ekpe, who could not be reached for comment, threatened to fire her if she did so. Ms. Crossway alleges she came to fear Mr. Ekpe’s presence, often hiding in a restroom to avoid him.

She claims the sexual overtures continued, with Mr. Ekpe creating “false pretenses” for her to enter his office. She alleges that Mr. Ekpe would “physically corner” and attempt to kiss her, although she was able to get out of the office. She further claims that Mr. Ekpe used his position in an attempt to force her to enter into a sexual relationship with him, but when she refused, he became “visibly enraged.”

According to the suit, once Mr. Ekpe suspected that Ms. Crossway had filed a complaint against him, he ordered her into a conference room with two other employees and yelled at her for breaking his order not to report his actions to human resources. When she informed him that she had not made a complaint, he “continued to berate her” in front of the other employees and throw items. He later also threatened her safety, the suit alleges.

Ms. Crossway claims that as a result of her refusal of Mr. Ekpe’s advances, he assigned her “excessively burdensome” work and responsibilities for which she was not trained. When she complained to an employee representative about the undue workload, the representative allegedly told her to “lie down and stop making waves within the facility,” cautioning her that if she continued to create issues, “she would suffer the consequences.”

In March 2012, Ms. Crossway filed a formal complaint of discrimination and retaliation regarding the alleged conduct with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s Diversity Management. She maintains that the ensuing investigation was “wholly inadequate and its findings were pretextual,” as Mr. Ekpe, who retired in May 2012, was not disciplined in any way.

The suit does not specify an amount sought in damages. The state has filed an answer to the suit in which it denies each allegation and has asked that the matter be dismissed.

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