Alleging a long-term pattern of sexual harassment by former Front Royal Councilman and Vice-Mayor William Sealock and subsequent efforts by other Town officials, including then councilman and current mayor Chris Holloway, to have her withdraw internal complaints about the behavior, former Clerk of Council Jennifer Berry has filed a federal wrongful/retaliatory termination lawsuit against the Town of Front Royal.
The suit was filed on January 4, 2021, in the U.S. Western District of Virginia Court in Harrisonburg. It describes a lengthy and multi-faceted series of events, first alleged against Sealock commencing shortly after his January 2017 swearing on to council, for sexually explicit comments or actions (paragraphs 14 to 36 of linked lawsuit); and later indicating a lack of internal checks and balances to address Berry’s complaints, and even alleged observations about potential impacts on her family and employment initially expressed by then-Councilman Holloway if she did not drop the matter – Paragraphs 37 to 73 of the lawsuit. Attempts to reach Sealock and Holloway by phone prior to publication were unsuccessful.
The Town of Front Royal is accused of “discriminatory and retaliatory employment practices” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., as amended (“Title VII”) and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. Counts cited include Count 1: Discrimination on the Basis of Sex; Count 2: Unlawful Retaliation; Count 3: Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment; and Count 4: Violations of FMLA, the latter related to planned time off for foot surgery in December 2019-January 2020 timeframe just prior to her termination.
The suit seeks: “all legal and equitable remedies available under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., including, but not limited to, declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, placement into a position she would be holding but for Defendant’s discriminatory conduct, and any other legal or equitable relief as the Court deems appropriate.” A jury trial is sought.
After working for 15 years as Front Royal’s Council Clerk, following an initial five-year term (1998-2003) as an administrative assistant in the Town Department of Public Works, with a break in 2003-05 during which she gave birth to her child, Berry was terminated on February 4, 2020. By April 1, 2020, she had filed a charge of “discrimination against Defendant Town” the background portion of her lawsuit notes.
Her termination came despite a history of positive job performance reviews as late as July 2019, her attorney Timothy Cupp of Harrisonburg wrote, quoting from that 2019 evaluation approximately six months prior to her termination: “Defendant Town described Plaintiff in the Overall Performance Review comments as: ‘Exceptional employee, valuable team member, goes above & beyond, Glue in organization, pleasant & kind, on time with duties, excellent job. Pleasant employee to Work with her knowledge, experience and willingness to assist’.”
What changed during the subsequent six months?
According to her attorney’s description of his client’s experience, it was Berry’s unwillingness to drop her effort to have her employer, Sealock’s fellow elected officials on council, as well as the Town Human Resources apparatus, put a stop to Councilman Sealock’s alleged sexually tinged and demeaning behavior.
Rather than help in a municipal environment with a supposed “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment, her bringing the issue to other members of council as well as filing a complaint with the Town Department of Human Resources, had a counter affect, Berry claims. That counter-affect was multiple instances of institutional retaliatory behavior culminating with her termination as part of the interim town manager’s “right-sizing” slashing of Town personnel and departments in early 2020.
The federal Title VII filing describes the final chapter of Berry’s three-plus-year experience of dealing with the alleged sexual harassment unfold:
(Paragraph) 69. On January 30, 2020, Plaintiff was contacted by email and text and told that her job was subject to “right-sizing,” that her Clerk position was to be abolished and that the Clerk position was to be a part-time position. She further was told that her employment with the Defendant Town would be terminated effective February 4, 2020. The result was that a 20-year employee of the Town had gone from being the employee slated to receive a promotion and raise in the summer of 2019 to an employee being terminated despite the fact that her Clerk position was required by the Town’s charter to be filled by the Town.
70. Moreover, Plaintiff previously had been employed as Clerk to the Council on a part-time basis. She became Certified as a Clerk and her position had been moved to full time. Plaintiff could have continued her employment in a part-time capacity without additional cost to Defendant Town and without losing her benefits. Defendant Town did not allow Plaintiff to remain employed with the Town in the position in which she had performed well.
71. Defendant Town’s termination of Plaintiff’s employment, however, was not about saving money. It was pretext for Defendant’s discrimination against Plaintiff based on her sex and/or for its retaliation for Plaintiff’s opposition to Defendant Town’s conduct that violated Title VII.
Go to the linked suit, published in its entirety by Royal Examiner, to see the federal Title VII complaint’s personal and institutional allegations leading up to the “right-sizing” conclusion of Ms. Berry’s 20 years of service to the Town of Front Royal.
Incoming – the Town Pavilion’s indoor restrooms arrive, without keys
The arrival of an important auxiliary building portion of the new Town Pavilion arrived at the Village Commons area in the heart of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District Tuesday morning, March 2. The first clue something was up, was a towering crane pointing toward the heavens – and at a passing airliner that may have had to alter its course slightly to avoid a collision. Just kidding, it wasn’t quite THAT tall.
Town crews on hand, along with five contractors’ personnel were present at least in part to place an enclosed restroom facility adjacent to the pavilion. When the project is completed you can say “goodbye” to those downtown Village Commons’ Johnny Blues.
With the bulk of the Commons-Gazebo area parking lot closed to traffic, a large Midland Equipment flatbed carried the restroom facility into place at the pavilion’s front after the construction site parking lot fencing was removed. The crane jockeyed its huge arm in position to place its hook, eventually sporting multiple hoisting cables, above the building headed for the east side of the pavilion shell.
Being a bathroom facility that will hook into the Town Water-Sewer Utilities, inside access was required by town staff to line up the piping connections. But who had the keys to the locked up for transport building? No one on-site, it turned out. Public Works Director Robbie Boyer was reportedly headed back to departmental headquarters on a key-finding mission. Shortly, word came back to the site that the keys were in McLean, apparently at the building’s source point.
“It’s always something” was the construction, transport, and related crews assessment on the ground. But after an hour-plus delay, things began moving again as one way or another inside access was achieved. An attempt to reach Boyer prior to publication for details on the solution to the inside access problem was unsuccessful.
But here’s a nod to whatever solution was achieved – word on the ground was that the Town would have been charged by the day for equipment required to be maintained on-site to completion of the job. And our guess is that the crane belonging to H&W Construction of Winchester wasn’t coming cheap.
In addition to Town crews, Midland Equipment and H&W Construction on site were Smith-Midland Concrete, Well’s Roofing, and Lantz Construction of Winchester. And following placement of the restroom facility, in addition, to hook up work there, crews were on the pavilion roof and on the base beneath that roof. Stay busy boys, completion of the pavilion project is slated for at least “substantial completion” by the end of March, according to Town Manager Hicks report on Town business to the County EDA Board of Directors last week.
According to Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson, the total cost of the pavilion project approved by the Town Council on September 8, 2020, is $225,715. The pavilion is seen as an additional, covered, outdoor events facility to augment the Gazebo-Village Commons area at the East Main and Chester Street intersection. And a March-April completion will be JUST in time for the next round of warm weather weekend downtown walking mall street closings, should the newly aligned council elect to revisit that popular COVID-launched concept of outdoor restaurant seating to aid downtown businesses through pandemic-restricted indoor seating restrictions.
And then there is that downtown, outdoor high school prom idea being floated for spring.
Christendom College conducts emergency operations training exercise with Front Royal and Warren County First Responders
Christendom College hosted a tabletop exercise testing the college’s emergency preparedness on Wednesday, February 24, in coordination with senior leadership from the Town of Front Royal and Warren County. Chief Executives from the town’s Police Department and Fire and Rescue, along with the Warren County Sherriff’s Office and Warren Memorial Hospital, all attended the event, which successfully tested the emergency response coordination between the college and public safety and health agencies.
“We are preparing for something that we hope and pray never happens — nevertheless, if something like this should happen, we want to ensure that we are as prepared as we possibly can be,” said College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell. “All of you, as first responders, please know that you all share our gratitude for all that you do to keep Christendom College safe and for being here today.”
The tabletop exercise was the result of years of work by the college’s Emergency Operations Team and their external crisis consultant management consultant, who helped the college prepare extensively for the exercise on February 24. Over the course of the afternoon, the exercise helped the college and town and county personnel perform an extensive review of what resources are in place for a variety of crisis-level events, from neutralizing threats to assisting victims to effectively communicating during and after a crisis.
The exercise proved to be fruitful not only for testing emergency preparedness, but also for building up relationships between the college and surrounding law enforcement, fire and rescue, and health agencies.
“We applaud the administration at Christendom College for recognizing the need to have emergency planning in place and developing the relationship with public safety partners,” said Front Royal Police Department Chief Kahle Magalis.”They have been very accommodating in providing facilities for us to train our personnel in emergency response over the past several years. Clearly, they have witnessed the complexity of emergency operations and identified key personnel within their staff to form their emergency operations team, as well as their plans to integrate into the emergency response. My hat is off to them for devoting valuable resources to this endeavor.”
Attendees for the event included: Christendom’s President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell and Executive Vice President Mark Rohlena, along with the college’s entire Emergency Operations Team; Front Royal Police Department Chief Kerry Magalis; Warren County Fire and Rescue Fire Chief James Bonzano and Emergency Coordinator Lietutenant Rick Farrall; Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler; Warren Memorial Hospital Safety and Emergency Management Manager Daniel Mulcahy and Emergency Department Clinical Manager Delores Gehr; and Golden Seal Enterprises President and CEO Frank Yurkovich, along with other members of all the above agencies.
Sheriff Butler stated that “the Sheriff’s Office applauds the Emergency Operations Team of Christendom College for taking a strong leadership role for ensuring the safety and education of its students and staff alike. In a world where the unexpected – is to be expected, it takes a concerted and enduring relationship between all agencies to sustain a steady state of preparedness for such events. By training and exercising together we learn best how to support one another, manage expectations and ensure a confident and safe response to all-hazards.”
The tabletop exercise was the latest in a series of exercises conducted on campus in conjunction with Front Royal and Warren County agencies, including mass casualty incident training that was conducted in August of 2020. All of the exercises contribute to ensuring that the college is as well prepared as possible in the event of a crisis.
About Christendom College: Christendom College is a four-year coeducational Roman Catholic Liberal Arts College with undergraduate and graduate programs offered in four locations in Front Royal and Alexandria (Virginia), Donegal (Ireland), and Rome (Italy). Founded in 1977 in response to the devastating blow inflicted on Catholic higher education by the cultural revolution which swept across America in the 1960s, Christendom’s goal is to provide a truly Catholic liberal arts education in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and thereby to prepare students for their role of restoring all things in Christ.
Virginia restaurants grapple with plastic foam container ban
From vermicelli bowls to crispy chicken, Pho Luca’s, a Vietnamese-owned Richmond restaurant, uses plastic foam containers to package takeout meals. That may soon change after the General Assembly recently passed a bill banning such packaging.
After negotiations on a Senate amendment, the House agreed in a 57-39 vote last week on an amendment to House Bill 1902, which bans nonprofits, local governments, and schools from using polystyrene takeout containers. The Senate passed the amended bill in a 24-15 vote.
“We’re just leveling the playing field,” said Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, about the amendment. “So not only do restaurants, but nonprofits and schools will be subject to this ban in 2025.”
Food chains with 20 or more locations cannot package and dispense food in polystyrene containers as of July 2023. The remaining food vendors have until July 2025. Food vendors in violation of the ban can receive up to $50 in civil penalty each day of violation.
Carr said she is glad Virginia is taking the lead to curb plastic pollution and that the measure will “make our environment cleaner and safer for all of our citizens (by) not having styrofoam in the ditches and in the water and in the food that we consume.”
This is the second year the bill was sent to a conference committee. Last year’s negotiation resulted in a reenactment clause stipulating the bill couldn’t be enacted until it was approved again this year by the General Assembly.
The COVID-19 pandemic loomed over this year’s bill dispute as businesses shift to single-use packagings, such as polystyrene, to limit contamination.
Lawmakers skeptical of the polystyrene ban spoke out on the Senate floor, arguing the ban will hurt small businesses who rely on polystyrene foam containers, which are known for their cheaper cost.
“The places that give me these Styrofoam containers are the places that are struggling the most right now,” said Sen. Jen A. Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach.
The pandemic has financially impacted the restaurant industry. In 2020, Virginia’s food services sector lost more than 20% of its employees from 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Like many small businesses, Pho Luca’s has relied on polystyrene foam takeout packaging because it is affordable and functional.
Dominic Pham, the owner of the Pho Luca’s, said he has been in contact with several vendors that sell polystyrene alternatives, but it has been a challenge for Pham to find suitable alternatives.
Pho Luca’s currently uses plastic foam containers that cost about a nickel per container, Pham said. The alternatives will cost about 55 cents more. However, Pham said he is willing to make the change, recognizing that polystyrene containers are detrimental to the environment.
Pham said he distributed surveys to consumers on the possibility of raising prices to offset the cost of polystyrene alternatives. The results were overwhelmingly positive.
“Even if we have to upcharge them a dollar for the recyclable, reusable containers, people (are) happy to do that, they don’t mind,” Pham said.
The use of plastic foam containers has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several states and cities have reversed or delayed restrictions and bans on single-use plastics since April 2020, according to a USA Today report.
The pandemic also has resulted in an increase in single-use plastics, such as plastic bags and personal protective equipment. A 2020 report in the Environmental Science & Technology journal estimated plastic packaging to increase 14% as consumers seek out prepackaged items due to sanitary concerns.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic sparked renewed interest in single-use plastics, environmental organizations and businesses have spoken against the use of plastic foam containers. Polystyrene biodegrades slowly and rarely can be recycled, posing a risk to wildlife and human health, according to Environment Virginia.
MOM’s Organic Market, a mid-Atlantic grocery chain, has used compostable containers and cups since 2005.
“I think that it’s the right thing to do for the environment, for communities, for our residents,” said Alexandra DySard, the grocery chain’s environment, and partnership manager.
DySard said purchasing compostable takeout containers instead of polystyrene foam containers has not financially hurt the chain. She said using a plastic lid that can be recycled locally is a better alternative than using polystyrene foam.
Polystyrene alternatives will become more affordable and accessible the more businesses use those products, DySard said.
“If it’s a statewide change, that’s kind of the best-case scenario because everybody makes the change at once,” Dysard said. “And it’s driving demand for the product up and costs down.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. If signed, Virginia will join states such as Maryland and Maine to ban polystyrene foam containers.
By David Tran
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Lydia Lancie of Front Royal named to Cedarville University Deans List
Lydia Lancie of Front Royal, VA, was named to the Cedarville University Dean’s List for fall 2020. Lydia is a freshman at Cedarville and has maintained a 4.0 GPA. The Dean’s List recognition requires a 3.5 minimum GPA while carrying a minimum of 12 credit hours.
Lydia is majoring in Social Work, with a minor in Art. Judy and Mark Lancie of Front Royal, and her two sisters, are very proud of her accomplishment.
Lydia choose Cedarville University based on its Social Work accreditation that allowing graduates to complete the Master of Social Work program in about one year. Some have gone on to complete a law degree and have become legal advocates for the poor and disenfranchised.
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,550 undergraduate, graduate, and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation, and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and high student engagement ranking. For more information about Cedarville University, visit www.cedarville.edu.
Virginia lawmakers pass COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation bills
The Virginia General Assembly passed multiple bills allowing health care workers and first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are disabled or die due to COVID-19.
“We did it!” Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, said in a Twitter post. “Health care heroes who got COVID on the job will get the retroactive workers’ comp presumption they deserve!”
Hurst’s House Bill 1985 expanded workers’ compensation benefits for health care workers “directly involved in diagnosing or treating persons known or suspected to have COVID-19,” including doctors and nurses. The bill provides coverage from March 12, 2020, until Dec. 31, 2021.
The health care worker must have been treated for COVID-19 symptoms and been diagnosed by a medical provider to qualify for compensation before July 1, 2020. The individual must have received medical treatment and a positive COVID-19 test to be eligible for compensation after July 1, 2020.
The bill also said health care workers who refuse or fail to get vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be eligible for workers’ compensation. The aforementioned rule doesn’t apply if a physician determines vaccination will risk the worker’s health.
“This is how we honor our brave health care heroes that put themselves in harm’s way to treat those infected with this horrible virus,” Hurst said in a press release. “They sacrifice for us and deserve our utmost praise and admiration, but they also deserve our help.”
There were concerns about the bill’s costs, according to Hurst. The Senate tried to remove the bill’s retroactive clause, but the bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support following negotiations.
The Virginia Nurses Association said the bill will make it easier for nurses to access benefits.
“Unfortunately, too many Virginia nurses caught COVID-19 while treating patients,” the association said in a Facebook post. “For those that got very sick, there is no easy way to file for workers’ compensation, and many have suffered not only physically, but financially.”
Senate Bill 1375 and HB 2207 cover workers’ compensation for first responders who are diagnosed or died from COVID-19 on or after Sept. 1 of last year. The measures include firefighters, police officers, correctional and regional jail officers, and emergency medical services workers. The bills require an official diagnosis through a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms of the disease.
The House bill, sponsored by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, originally included a retroactive clause that compensated cases going back to March 2020, but that was taken out of the legislation’s final version.
“We fought tooth and nail to provide our first responders – the real heroes of the pandemic – coverage under workers’ compensation for COVID, and we got it done,” Jones said in a Twitter post.
By Sam Fowler
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Fauquier Health moves from zero-visitor policy to a limited-visitor policy
Prior to the holidays on December 11, 2020, Fauquier Health implemented a zero-visitor protocol at the hospital due to the documented increase in confirmed positive cases in our region. Fauquier Health has since announced, that due to the decreased number of confirmed positive cases, they have been able to move back to a limited-visitor policy. This decision comes after the recent trends reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
This means that Fauquier Hospital is limiting visitors to the facility if they are essential for the patient’s physical or emotional well-being and care (e.g., care partners). Some exceptions may still apply that prevent a visitor from entering the facility. The hospital still encourages the use of alternative mechanisms for patient and visitor interactions such as video-call applications on cell phones or tablets.
Points of facility entry will continue to be limited to ensure all patients and visitors can be properly screened for any symptoms of the COVID-19 illness. If fever or COVID-19 symptoms are present, visitors will not be allowed entry into the facility.
Fauquier Health also announced that the Bistro on the Hill is now serving outside patrons for takeout only. Anyone coming into the bistro to grab a to-go-meal between the hours of 7 am and 2 pm, will still be required to enter through the main lobby to receive screening. Outside patrons are not permitted to dine in and will be required to exit the facility upon completing their meal purchase.
Fauquier Health reminds the public to continue doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, washing your hands regularly, and wearing a mask or face covering while in public.
For a detailed list of policies and updates, please visit the COVID-19 Preparedness page at FauquierHealth.org.
COVID-19 Vaccine Update and Registration Details
Fauquier County is operating under Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout as directed by the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District (RRHD)/Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Community members who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine include frontline essential workers, persons aged 65 years and older, people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, migrant labor camps, and people aged 16 through 64 years with a high-risk medical condition or disability that increases their risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Eligible community members can visit the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District’s website to learn how to register or click on the link below to pre-register through the new statewide system at vaccinate.virginia.gov.
All individuals who have previously filled out a survey or signed up for a waitlist to be vaccinated through their local health district will be automatically imported into the new statewide system. Individuals will maintain their current status in the queue and will be able to search that they are in the new system
Questions or concerns? If you need any assistance registering or have any registration questions, please contact the Fauquier County COVID-19 Call Center at 540.422.0111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Fauquier Health
Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs. Fauquier Health also operates nine physician’s offices, including primary care and specialties. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling 540.316.5000.