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St. Croix County sheriff's investigator sues employer, coworker over online comment

A comment posted on a newspaper company's website has sparked a lawsuit against the St. Croix County sheriff's office and one of its investigators. Attorneys for Cathy Borsgschatz, an investigator with the sheriff's office, filed a suit Thursday ...

A comment posted on a newspaper company's website has sparked a lawsuit against the St. Croix County sheriff's office and one of its investigators.

Attorneys for Cathy Borsgschatz, an investigator with the sheriff's office, filed a suit Thursday over the comment and the sheriff's office response to it, alleging sexual harassment and defamation, among other things.

The comment was attached to a Hudson Star-Observer story about Borsgschatz and was posted on the website Rivertowns.net in January 2010.

It read, "I know for a fact that Cathy played a different instrument in the band," according to the suit.

The remark implied that Borsgschatz is a lesbian, which she is not, her attorney, Philip Villaume, said Friday.

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The comment had followed one that related to Borsgschatz and had "sexual overtones," according to the suit.

The author of the comment was a fellow investigator with the sheriff's office, Brent Standaert, the suit alleges. Villaume said Standaert now works under Borsgschatz, who is the first female investigator in the department's history.

Standaert, of Glenwood City, Wis., declined to comment Friday, and Borsgschatz, of the town of Hammond, Wis., declined to comment through her attorney.

After the comment, Borsgschatz spoke with Dennis Hillstead, who was sheriff at the time, about disciplining Standaert, the suit says. Standaert received a three-day suspension.

Villaume, however, said the punishment was not severe enough.

"It's really uncommon in the public sector for a co-employee to make the kind of comments that were made," he said. "It's very egregious and in most situations would be grounds for discharge or termination. It's our position that that's what should have happened."

The suit also alleges that changes were made to Standaert's disciplinary letter so as to not include any mention of sexual harassment.

"Apparently there had been a written letter disciplining him for sexual harassment and that was rescinded," Villaume said. "My client has taken the position that there was a cover-up to protect his future."

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Borsgschatz fears that because the language concerning sexual harassment was removed from the letter, Standaert will likely become her superior, the suit states.

Chief Deputy Scott Knudson, who was filling in Friday for Sheriff John Shilts, declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

Villaume said there was no effort to get the comment removed from the website.

The suit states that as a result of the online comment, Borsgschatz has been "exposed to public ridicule, contempt, anxiety and disgrace ..." and her "standing in the community has been injured, causing severe mental anguish and distress."

It alleges that the sheriff's office and Standaert should be held responsible for invasion of privacy, defamation and sexual harassment.

In addition, it states that the sheriff's office engaged in negligent supervision/retention, saying, in part, that Standaert's conduct was "reasonably foreseeable."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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