A former Delaware County deputy sheriff who sued the county and alleged she was sexually harassed and wrongfully terminated, lost her case in U.S. District Court last week after a jury sided with the county.
Janine Senanayake, the so-called “kissing cop,” has been embroiled in a legal battle with Delaware County since her termination from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office in April 2012. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in January 2015, alleging that she was the victim of sexual discrimination, disability discrimination, a hostile work environment, and that she was being retaliated against for reporting the sexual harassment.
Senanayake was hired as a corrections officer with the sheriff’s office in September 2010 and was later promoted to a sheriff’s deputy in May 2011, according to court records. Records indicate that in the summer of 2011, Senanayake began engaging in a romantic relationship with then-sheriff Walter L. Davis III, who was married at the time.
Senanayake alleged that shortly after she was hired as a deputy, she began being repeatedly harassed by another deputy who made lewd and suggestive comments to her. She alleged that she reported these comments to her superiors and began getting a “cold shoulder” from her coworkers for reporting the comments.
However, the county disagreed with that version of events. The deputy in question took responsibility for making a single comment, brought on after Senanayake grabbed her crotch and said he “couldn’t handle it.” The deputy stated he would “never say anything like that again.”
The county argued that Senanayake was not well liked at the sheriff’s office because of her well-known relationship with Davis and her benefiting from his favoritism. Captains at the sheriff’s office reported that Senanayake did not receive proper disciplinary action after her second at-fault accident with her cruiser or after she was discovered texting and driving twice.
Davis resigned the following April after a Bureau of Criminal Investigations reported that had misused public funds to pay for Senanayake to accompany him on an out-of-state trip.
U.S. District Court dismissed the disability discrimination charge and the sexual discrimination charge before the trial began on Sept. 19. On Sept. 20, the jury ruled in favor of the sheriff’s office and decided Senanayake was not fired as retaliation nor was she the victim of sexual harassment at the sheriff’s office.
Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin was appointed to replace Davis in 2012 and said on Thursday that he was glad the jury sided with the county.
“The previous sheriff and [Senanayake] are wholly responsible for what transpired,” Martin said. “It’s an unfortunate chapter in the history of the sheriff’s office that we have now closed.”
Martin said Davis erred when he hired Senanayake because Davis was advised not to employ her by his staff. Court records indicate that Senanayake had been fired from the Perry Township Police Department in July 2009 after a dash cam video surfaced of Senanayake and then Perry Township Police Chief Timothy Escola kissing and caressing each other in a police cruiser while an inmate slept in the back. This video earned her the moniker “kissing cop.”
Davis’ staff said a “cloud of drama” seemed to follow her when she worked for the Medina County Sheriff’s Office and another staff member viewed hiring her as a “liability” based on her history of getting disciplined when she worked for the Montville Township Police Department.
“If he had taken his staff’s recommendation, this county would never have had to deal with that over the last five years,” Martin said.
Martin said he doesn’t intend to make the same mistake, noting that from day one in office he trusted his detectives when they execute background checks on candidates for employment.
“When I tasked my detective divisions to do background investigations and they tell me there’s a problem and they are not recommending them, I defer to their recommendation,” Martin said.
Martin added the sheriff’s office has restructured and changed policies to ensure these situations don’t happen again.
“We have regular and routine training on sexual harassment,” Martin said. “Culture and order set by people at the top. We don’t treat people the way they were previously treated.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.