By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Steve Marshall, who currently serves as the state’s attorney general, in the early 2000s used the power of his office to protect a man who, according to court records, sexually assaulted a co-worker in an act that a U.S. district judge described as “horrific.”
“He had me pinned with my back against the wall … I kept saying stop, stop, get off me, stop. Stop it. He was trying to put his mouth on me. I could still feel his hot breath on my neck. I felt like I absolutely was going to die. I couldn’t move him because he was so heavy. He kept pushing his hands — he had one hand on my breast underneath the top part of my bra. I could feel his fingers on my nipples. The other hand, again, I could feel he was at the top of my pubic area. And I knew I had to stop him.”
The above quotes are from sworn testimony given by a female worker in the Marshall County District Attorney’s Office. When then District Attorney Steve Marshall found out about the incident, he didn’t just do nothing — he actively worked to kill the woman’s case against an assistant district attorney in his office.
Marshall successfully had the case dismissed on technical grounds. The man, Assistant District Attorney Bryon Waldrop, remained by Marshall’s side while the woman, Donna Dunlap, was isolated, according to Dunlap’s court testimony.
Court records, obtained by the Alabama Political Reporter, show that a judge found it an undisputed fact that in June 2001, Waldrop, who would have been around 56 years old, sexually assaulted caseworker Dunlap, who was in her 20s and worked in the Restitution and Recovery Unit of the DA’s office.
According to the records, after the attack, Dunlap told Marshall County investigator Steve Guthrie and then-Marshall County District Attorney Ronald P. Thompson that Waldrop physically attacked her. According to Dunlap, “Thompson told her that he would handle the situation and for her to stay away from Waldrop.”
Thompson retired as Marshall County DA on July 31, 2001, a few days after the incident. Marshall gained the position the following day on Aug. 1, when then-Gov. Don Siegelman appointed him to replace Thompson.
According to sworn testimony, Marshall made Dunlap the same promise that he would address Dunlap’s assault — but like Thompson, court documents show he never followed through on that promise. Marshall denies he made any promise to Dunlap.
As part of a 2004 EEOC lawsuit before Federal District Judge Robert B. Propst, the court found that Marshall never disciplined Waldrop for the incident but did begin assigning Dunlap to other cases with different ADAs.
The District Attorney’s Office, under Marshall’s leadership, argued that they eliminated any direct contact between Dunlap and Waldrop, and they didn’t work together again beginning a month after the June 2001 incident.
Court records show that “Waldrop has never denied the June 2001 incident and even begged for plaintiff’s forgiveness.”
But even given the violent nature of the attack, Marshall allowed Waldrop to keep his job while Dunlap was isolated in a basement office as her responsibilities diminished over time, according to Dunlap’s argument included as part of Judge Propst’s summary judgment.
In her testimony, Dunlap recalled the assault, “I could feel he was at the top of my pubic area. I knew I had to stop him. So I just kept getting louder and louder. That’s the only way I knew to get him off of me. So I kept getting louder … finally just screamed and shoved past him, unlocked his door and ran down the hallway. I hit the stairwell and just completely lost it. I stood on the top of the stairwell for the longest just squalling.”
Waldrop’s harassment began nearly two years before it culminated in a full-on assault. According to sworn testimony, the verbal harassment began in 1999.
According to Judge Propst’s order in 1999, “Waldrop had begun to make comments about her [Dunlap’s] breasts and her lingerie, which led her to avoid him and his phone calls. Waldrop reportedly asked plaintiff about her sex life, what type of sanitary products she used, and how far she liked them to ‘go inside her.’ Countless times, plaintiff [Dunlap] asserts, Waldrop told plaintiff that he wanted to have sex with her. Waldrop asked plaintiff if she liked anal and oral sex and told plaintiff that he could make her feel real good with oral sex.”
Dunlap’s attorneys wrote, “Waldrop allegedly asked her [Dunlap] if she liked to have sex doggie style. Waldrop expressed to plaintiff on different occasions that he had an erection. He asked her if she liked to be hurt since some women liked to be smacked and hit. He also asked Dunlap if she ever worried about her job when she was off work.”
Dunlap made Inspector Guthrie aware of her growing concerns about Waldrop’s aggressive behavior, and the two developed a code word so she could alert Guthrie when Waldrop was menacing her. Whenever she feared Waldrop, she would raise Guthrie on the county’s two-way radio by saying, “Selma,” as a cry for help.
Marshall was made aware of all these issues with Waldrop but still protected him. Dunlap filed an EEOC complaint on Feb. 27, 2003, and a subsequent federal lawsuit on Dec. 23, 2003.
Dunlap claimed that because Marshall never addressed her attack or her concerns of continuing harassment and retaliation in the workplace, that the federal court should intervene under EEOC Title VII.
Part of Marshall’s defense was that after the June 2001 incident, there was no evidence that such physical conduct or sexual-based language occurred again.
However, Dunlap said after the incident that Waldrop “stands over the top of [her]” and “[g]lares at her” in the courtroom.” But Marshall’s defense was that Waldrop has spoken to her on a couple of occasions but only for professional reasons and in a professional manner.
Dunlap said in court that Marshall, “assured her that she would not be around Waldrop, including at office birthday parties attended by Waldrop and other staff members.” However, Marshall claimed that he was, “powerless to make such an assurance.” He further said he could not keep the two separate in court because, “The Circuit Clerk, not the DA, is in charge of the court’s motion docket.”
Dunlap also said she tried to speak with Marshall about ongoing harassment concerns, but that he would not meet with her or take her calls.
“He wouldn’t return my phone calls,” she said. “I have emails that I sent to him that he would not respond to. He doesn’t talk to me and he hasn’t talked to me since the day he came down there in that office with Steve Guthrie and I told him what happened.”
She says on one occasion she called Marshall from another worker’s phone, but once he realized it was her, he claimed he was busy and would get back to her. He never did, according to Dunlap.
Dunlap said that she suffered in a hostile work environment after she reported Waldrop. Before the attack, Dunlap recalled that she worked on the ground floor with the two investigators and was part of the special investigative unit.
She said that after her complaint, “Mr. Marshall came in, he completely emptied that office down there. I have no idea why anybody left or where they went.” Alone, she said, “I had a camera that did not record. I had a door that didn’t shut correctly. I was all by myself, had no way to get any help for anything other than Guthrie, radioing him and giving him the password or the code word if Byron showed up.”
Her security guard was also removed.
“I collect restitution from criminals,” she said. “Until I complained about the sexual harassment, I had an armed security guard for protection. I have now been moved to an isolated area with no security. The other revenue unit collectors for worthless checks and child support have armed security.”
It was argued that Marshall wasn’t aware of these complaints.
Judge Propst agreed with Marshall’s claim that because Dunlap was not directly an employee in his office and that because her complaint was outside the statute of limitations, that the court should grant summary judgment in the District Attorney’s Office’s favor.
Marshall successfully convinced Propst that since the attack occurred when the office didn’t have a formal policy on sexual harassment, there was no prescriptive remedy for him to follow. Marshall, who would later become Alabama’s top law enforcement official, informed the court that in 2002, he implemented a sexual harassment policy but it was after Dunlap’s attack and therefore didn’t apply. Marshall also argued that since Waldrop was not Dunlap’s supervisor that there were no grounds for Dunlap to feel her job was threatened.
In 2004, Marshall’s argument won the day and Dunlap’s case was dismissed.
While Judge Propst acknowledged that Dunlap was sexually assaulted by Waldrop and that neither Marshall nor his predecessor had taken action against her attacker, he still found that Dunlap’s case was insufficient to meet the EEOC standard.
Marshall’s rigorous technical arguments prevailed, leaving Dunlap with nowhere else to turn. Even the local paper of record, The Gadsden Times, glossed over the case.
Waldrop retired years later, taking a position as Guntersville’s city judge. Waldrop, now in his 70s, still practices law in Marshall County.
Dunlap, now in her 40s, works in the Victim Restitution Unit in the Marshall County DA’s office.
Marshall is running for state’s attorney general in the 2018 Republican primary.