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Lawsuit: District attorney sexually harassed employee

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Rick Rothacker
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com rrothacker@charlotteobserver.com

A former prosecutor for Jay Gaither filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss on Thursday, alleging that the DA for Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties pestered her to go out on dates, sent her racy text messages and groped her.

The complaint was filed in federal court by Whitney Nicole Shaffer, who worked as one of Gaither’s assistant district attorneys from February 1, 2013 until May 5, 2013.

During that time, the complaint alleges, Gaither rubbed Shaffer’s thigh while the pair rode in a car together. She claims at one point that Gaither texted her: “I’ve laid hands on you and love the feel of your body.”

The lawsuit also raises questions about Gaither’s conduct as district attorney. It alleges that he drank while driving and told Shaffer he was a powerful man who would use his office to do legal favors for friends.

The suit says she resigned after the workplace became so intolerable due to Gaither’s “constant sexual harassment” and her “fear of violence.”

Gaither is married and a father of four. He’s been the DA since 2002 and gained national attention during the Zahra Baker homicide case. Zahra, 10, was killed and dismembered in 2010. Her stepmother, Elisa Baker, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in prison.

Gaither is running for re-election and is battling David Learner for the Republican nomination. The runoff is July 15.

In an interview Thursday, Gaither denied Shaffer’s allegations and said they were politically motivated. Learner couldn’t be reached for comment.

Gaither accused Shaffer of inappropriate conduct and said he told her she would have to get another job.

After she was terminated, Shaffer attempted “to salvage her professional career by falsely and slanderously leveling allegations against me,” Gaither said.

John Buric, a Charlotte attorney representing Shaffer, said she resigned voluntarily so “any allegation that she was terminated for any reason is fictitious.” The lawsuit was not politically motivated, Buric said. The suit also says Shaffer feared violence in the workplace from Gaither, who told her he had wrestled in high school.

Shaffer is the daughter of Rick Shaffer, the district attorney for Lincoln and Cleveland counties. She is now an assistant district attorney in the district that covers Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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