Politics & Government

Attorney General Roy Cooper seeks dismissal of suit against Jay Gaither

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has asked a federal court to dismiss claims that Catawba County District Attorney Jay Gaither sexually harassed a former assistant prosecutor.

Justice Department attorneys cited what they described as the “flirtatious tone” of text messages between Gaither and Whitney Nicole Shaffer as well as her “coquettish responses.”

Shaffer, a former assistant district attorney, made headlines in June when she filed the federal complaint in the midst of Gaither’s heated Republican runoff campaign with David Learner. Three weeks later, Gaither lost to the Burke County attorney.

In a motion filed this week, attorneys for Cooper, a Democrat, made clear he was intervening only in regards to claims involving Gaither’s official role as a prosecutor. Gaither also has a private attorney.

As attorney general, Cooper represents offices such as district attorneys.

In the Justice Department motion, attorneys Grady Balentine Jr. and Kathryn Shields recounted many of the same texts Shaffer cited in her harassment complaint.

One exchange included a text from Gaither.

“I’ve laid hands on you and love the feel of your body,” they said. “… I’m distracted at this point.”

“Ha works every time … Seriously … Bring it,” Shaffer responded.

Shaffer, the motion read, “cannot establish a claim of hostile work environment or quid pro quo sexual harassment because the plaintiff’s coquettish responses to … Gaither’s texts reveal that his advances were welcomed.”

Sexual advances, it added, are unwelcome only when somebody regards them “as undesirable or offensive and did not solicit or incite them.”

“Here (Shaffer’s) sexually charged responses … indicate that she was open to Defendant Gaither’s advances and even welcomed the attention … The texting continues with a flirtatious tone over the next several days. …

“At no time in the texts provided did (Shaffer) indicate … that his advances were not welcome, despite having the opportunity to do so.”

The motion said the evidence that Shaffer offers “clearly reflect her knowledge” that Gaither was acting in his “individual capacity,” not his official role as prosecutor for Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties.

Reached Thursday, Gaither referred comments to his attorney, Renee Hughes of Charlotte. She could not be reached.

Shaffer’s Charlotte attorney, John Buric, also could not be reached.

In her suit, Shaffer said she resigned after the workplace became intolerable because of Gaither’s “constant sexual harassment” and her “fear of violence.”

Gaither has said that the allegations aren’t true and that the claims were politically motivated.

In office since 2002, Gaither may be best-known for handling the Zahra Baker murder case in 2010.

It’s unclear what effect the harassment claims had on the election, which Learner won with 62 percent of the vote.

Gaither has said his loss shows that the public had lost faith on him. He blamed that on his own “errors in judgment.”