Claiming sexual harassment and cover up, former Council Clerk files federal retaliatory termination suit against Town of Front Royal
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.
Virginia patriots remembered in historic grave marking ceremony
The echoes of the past reverberated through the hallowed ground of McIlhaney Family Cemetery as descendants and societies dedicated to the memory of the Revolutionary War united in a poignant ceremony. The Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), along with other participating SAR chapters and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) societies, marked the graves of Rev War patriots James McIlhaney and William H. Parker.
James McIlhaney, a Loudoun County native born in 1749, served valiantly during the Revolutionary War. His commission as Lieutenant in the 10th Virginia Regiment came in March 1776, with a subsequent promotion to Captain. McIlhaney demonstrated his courage in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown before resigning from service in June 1778.
William H. Parker, born in Westmoreland County in 1752, etched his name in the annals of history as a midshipman on the Virginia State Ship (VSS) Tartar, later advancing to the rank of Lieutenant and taking command of the vessel. Parker’s bravery was evident during the Battle of Osborne’s Landing when he defied surrender, swimming ashore to join the Virginia militia. He would later play an integral role in the Battle of Green Spring and the Siege of Yorktown.
Ken Bonner, President of the Sgt Maj John Champe SAR Chapter, led the ceremony, which included six SAR chapters, three DAR chapters, two Children of the American Revolution (CAR) societies, and direct descendants of the patriots.
During the event, attendees were graced by the Virginia State Color Guard, commanded by Barry Schwoerer. The pledge of allegiance, led by Rand Pixa, President of the George Washington SAR Chapter, was a resounding testament to the ongoing commitment of Americans to their historic roots.
The graves of the two patriots were vigilantly guarded by sentries Gary Dunaway and John Lynch, both from the Williamsburg SAR chapter, who later unveiled the grave markers during the dedication ceremony. Numerous wreaths were presented by participants, symbolic of the respect and reverence held for these revolutionary heroes.
A heartfelt tribute came in the form of a three-round musket salute delivered by the combined Virginia SAR firelock squad. This salute was followed by the stirring notes of a bagpipe played by MacPhearson Strassberg from the Rev John Marks Society CAR, underlining the solemnity of the occasion.
Those present to pay their respects included a host of participants from various SAR and DAR chapters, offering a visual representation of unity and shared purpose in the ceremony. The SAR participants, as well as the musket squad, gathered for a group photograph, capturing this significant moment for posterity.
The ceremony served as a timeless tribute to McIlhaney and Parker, embodying the enduring respect and appreciation for the patriots who shaped America’s early days of freedom. This event reinforced the importance of such commemorations in reminding current and future generations of the sacrifices made in pursuit of liberty and independence.
An emotional and educational Dogs of War service kicks off Memorial Day weekend in Front Royal
Saturday, May 27, was no ordinary day in Front Royal. As the sun shone brightly on a beautiful late spring afternoon, the melodic sounds of Jim Lundt’s bagpipe ushered in a crowd of about 60 spectators and participants to the Humane Society of Warren County’s (HSWC) Julia Wagner Animal Shelter for the second annual Dogs of War and Law Enforcement K-9 team Memorial Day weekend event.
The Dogs of War Garden of Remembrance, a tranquil space nestled within the shelter grounds, was the hub of this heartwarming celebration. At its center stands a statue of a German Shepherd – a poignant representation of war dogs and law enforcement canines’ loyal service throughout history. Accompanied by a heartfelt dedication note, this statue embodies the community’s profound gratitude toward these unsung heroes.
Meghan Bowers, HSWC Executive Director, kick-started the event by introducing the man behind the memorial garden’s creation – Malcolm Barr Sr. As a lifelong animal advocate and former HSWC Board President, Barr’s passion led to the inception of the War Dog and Law Enforcement K-9 Memorial Garden. His efforts have not only shaped this Memorial Day weekend celebration but also ensured a year-round tribute to these canine heroes.
Bowers emphasized the appropriateness of Front Royal as the event’s location, noting the deep historical connection it shares with war dogs. It was here in Front Royal at the Remount Training Center that the first U.S. dogs trained for combat in World War II were prepared, a fact that Barr highlighted, adding significance to the ceremony.
The event was graced by the participation of various local authorities and services. A Color Guard was provided by the Front Royal Police Department, with FRPD Officer Olivia Meadows in attendance with her K-9 partner Marley. Representatives from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Front Royal Fire Department also lent their support.
In his address, Barr gratefully acknowledged the HSWC for dedicating a section of the animal shelter property to the memorial garden, which was inaugurated on this date last year.
Keynote speaker Steve Herman, chief national correspondent for Voice Of America and Barr’s former colleague at the Associated Press offered a detailed account of the history of dogs in warfare dating from the 7th century B.C. through World War II into modern times. Upon learning about this memorial service, Herman eagerly expressed interest in participating in the event.
During his address, he acknowledged his friend Barr Sr.’s efforts dating to the Vietnam era in having an overgrown war dog cemetery Barr had come across while on a reporting assignment on the Pacific Island of Guam, a major battlefield of the Second World War, rehabilitated. That site later became recognized as a national War Dog Cemetery.
Following Herman’s keynote address, Barr introduced Front Royal Councilman Skip Rogers, himself a former military dog handler, to lead the local law enforcement and K-9 contingent in the solemn act of laying a wreath at the Wagner Shelter Memorial Garden site.
The Valley Chorale, renowned for its exceptional talent, provided a melodic backdrop to the event. They performed both the opening and closing songs at the Julia Wagner Animal Shelter, adding a unique warmth to the proceedings.
This year’s celebration served as a poignant tribute to the enduring partnership between man and his canine companions in both wartime and on the domestic law enforcement front. It paid a well-deserved homage to the invaluable service dogs who have, and continue to, serve valiantly in times of peace and conflict.
Watch the Royal Examiner’s exclusive video of the Dogs of War and Service Memorial Day event.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for May 29 – June 2, 2023
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile marker 0 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Overnight mobile lane closures for vegetation management, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of June 8.
*NEW* Mile marker 5 to 13, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures, including along Exits 6 and 13 off-ramps for sign work, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight mobile lane closures for vegetation management, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through Tuesday night.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight single lane closures for equipment moving and bridge removal work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of July 7.
*NEW* Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Shoulder closures near Route 638 (Fiery Run Road/Freezeland Road) intersection for sign work, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
*NEW* Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) – Shoulder closures between Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) and I-66 on-ramp for sign work, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
No lane closures were reported.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
County overseen FR-WC EDA reviews committee reports, finances, and development of MOU with County at May meeting
The Front Royal-Warren County EDA held its monthly meeting on Friday, May 19, 2023, at 8:30 AM. All seven Board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present; Board Members Rob MacDougall and Hayden Ashworth participated remotely.
The regular meeting began with committee reports. Board Chairman Scott Jenkins mentioned the next Open-Door Business Session on June 1, which will focus on Workforce, and provided updates on recent meetings. The Board also provided updates on the Avtex Conservancy Property progress.
Treasurer Jim Wolfe and County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty provided an update on the EDA financial statements. Mr. Wolfe also gave an update on the Small Business Loan Committee and proposed the next steps for the committee.
Board Chairman Jenkins and Mr. Petty gave updates on the draft EDA & County MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) and support agreements that should be ready by June.
The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss potential disposition of real property to business prospects and legal consultation on active litigation. No new business followed the closed session.
The next regular monthly EDA Board meeting will be held on Friday, June 23, 2023, at 8:30 AM, at the Warren County Government Center.
Laurel Ridge drones program comes first in international award category
Laurel Ridge Community College’s drones program has been named a first-place winner in the Workforce Development category of the XCELLENCE Awards by the Association for Uncrewed Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI). Laurel Ridge was selected from a pool of accomplished applicants for their work in uncrewed systems technology. Winners were publicly congratulated during the XCELLENCE awards ceremony during AUVSI XPONENTIAL on May 9 in Denver, Colo. This year’s 50th-anniversary event was co-hosted by Messe Düsseldorf North America.
“This year, XPONENTIAL is all about designing a shared plan for the future of autonomy,” said Keely Griffith, Vice President of Strategic Programs at AUVSI. “There’s no better place to announce the 2023 XCELLENCE award finalists. Together, they are redefining what’s possible with uncrewed and robotic technology.”
The “Laurels Take Flight” initiative, under the leadership of Professor Melissa Stange, brought this new and exciting career field to life beyond Laurel Ridge through webinars, camps, classes, workshops, and trainings for community members, from kindergarteners to those in the workforce. The college began offering new drone courses last fall. These classes include a mix of face-to-face and online instruction, as well as plenty of time flying a variety of enterprise-level drones.
In January, two career studies certificates were approved by regional accreditors, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Flight Operator certificate teaches students the fundamentals of sUAS operations. It aligns with the aeronautical knowledge required for FAA-approved commercial operations as a remote pilot and prepares students to sit for the FAA part 107 exam.
The more advanced small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Flight Technician certificate provides both theory and hands-on experience with mission planning, ground control, emergency procedures, drone programming, and training on using geospatial data for analysis, presentation and decision making.
The AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards honor innovators with a demonstrated commitment to advancing autonomy, leading, and promoting safe adoption of uncrewed systems and developing programs that use these technologies to save lives and improve the human condition.
“It’s really an honor to receive an international award in workforce development for our uncrewed aircraft systems program, and it’s a testament to the work that program lead Dr. Stange has done to advance awareness of uncrewed systems and advanced air mobility as a career in our region,” said Dr. Craig Santicola, dean of Laurel Ridge’s School of Professional Programs. “While our Laurels Take Flight initiative is still new, we have held quite a few events and courses and have more planned for the coming year. Thanks to a GoVirginia grant, we will also be able to grow UAS training into Fauquier and Rappahannock counties by offering drone academies to the counties’ high school students this fall.
“As the industry for uncrewed systems and advanced air mobility grows, it’s imperative that our region meet industry demand through a trained workforce that can operate these systems safely in the national airspace system. Our program focuses on safety and providing students time flying a variety of enterprise-level drones, but we also do a lot of community outreach to provide education on the new and rapidly expanding career opportunities that UAS can provide. Winning this award affirms that we are on the right track with our innovative programs, and we can’t wait to unveil our other new certificate programs in the coming months.”
Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s drones program at laurelridge.edu/drones. For more information about AUVSI, visit AUVSI.org. For more information about the AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards and XPONENTIAL 2023, visit xponential.org.
Melissa Ichiuji Gallery Grand Opening – Studio Gallery unveils vibrant creativity in downtown Front Royal
American artist Melissa Ichiuji is thrilled to announce the opening of her anticipated Studio Gallery located in the heart of the lovely Shenandoah Valley on Saturday, June 10th, 2023, from 11:00 to 6:00 pm. The studio is located at 223 E. Main Street in Front Royal, and gallery hours will be each Friday and Saturday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
To mark its opening, Melissa Ichiuji Studio Gallery will exhibit a collection of work that reflects the essence of Ichiuji’s artistic experience. The exhibition will include pieces crafted from a variety of mediums, including both sculptures and paintings, to showcase Ichiuji’s range of talents.
Melissa Ichiuji’s works are bold and provocative, many times delving into themes of ecstasy, metamorphosis, and transcendence and sometimes incorporating hints of surrealism and sexual puns.
She is fearless in her creativity and draws inspiration from a rich array of materials, including welded steel, ceramics, textiles, and found objects, all of which allow her to express meaning through form, color, and texture.
The gallery serves as a dynamic setting for Ichiuji to display her works, allowing viewers to engage with her talent in a space that is as captivating as the art itself. The gallery will also function as an innovative hub for other creatives to share their passions and talents through exhibits, concerts, lectures, and classes, an addition that will aim to foster a thriving community of creators.
Melissa Ichiuji Studio Gallery invites the public to experience the artwork firsthand every Friday and Saturday, from 11 AM to 6 PM, and via private viewings by appointment, allowing for a more intimate and personalized experience.
For more information, visit Melissa Ichiuji Studio Gallery’s website at www.melissaichiuji.com
To schedule an appointment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-252-4570
About The Artist
Melissa Ichiuji is an American artist based in Virginia. Her artistic vision is characterized by its bold and original voice, resulting in pieces that encapsulate confidence and playful vibrance. Ichiuji’s captivating talent has earned her international acclaim, with exhibitions featured in museums and galleries in Paris, Brussels, Munich, Berlin, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Her pieces have been featured in renowned publications such as Art in America, Modern Luxury, Art Investor, NYART, Textiel Plus, The Washington Post, and 100 Artists of Washington, D.C.
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