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New Castle County government focus of federal sexual harassment lawsuit

Six current and former New Castle County employees have filed a federal lawsuit alleging serial sexual harassment and assault by a high-ranking county police officer — enabled by inaction on the part of county leaders.


The lawsuit calls New Castle County government a “sanctuary” for sexual harassers. 

It was filed Wednesday against the County government, County Executive Matt Meyer, police chief Col. Vaughn Bond, Jr., former public safety director Michael Hojnicki, Chief Administrative Officer Vanessa Phillips and former lieutenant colonel Quinton Watson. 

The plaintiffs claim Watson sexually harassed multiple women over the course of two decades — a situation allowed to continue because the County willfully suppressed, discouraged and ignored “any and all complaints.”

It details plaintiffs’ specific allegations of harassment by Watson — including touching and sexually explicit comments about their bodies and his own genitals.

It also accuses Meyer, Bond and Phillips of condoning and covering up the harassment and assault.

The specific counts against some or all of the defendants include descrimination based on sex, retaliation, sexual harassment and creation of a hostilework environment, failure to train and supervise, and abuse of power. 

The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs—captain Laura O’Sullivan, captain Patricia Davies, corporal Jessica Neipris, former police officer Lynda Scelsi, budget and procedures analyst Lori Kane and background investigator Margaret Ellwein— have suffered derailment of their careers. They are seeking damages including lost wages, back pay, front pay and compensation for emotional distress.  

County Executive Matt Meyer said in a statement his Administration has “always taken allegations of sexual harassment seriously and with the utmost care.” He said all six of the women’s complaints were dismissed by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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