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Comment on newspaper story prompts lawsuit

A comment posted on a Hudson Star-Observer story on the company's website is cited as grounds for a lawsuit against the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department and investigator Brent Standaert.

The suit was filed last Thursday by an attorney for Cathy Borsgschatz, an investigator with the sheriff's department.

The suit alleges sexual harassment and defamation.

Borsgschatz's attorney, Phillip Villaume of Bloomington, Minn., said the comment -- allegedly penned by Standaert about the Star-Observer web story (also posted to -- implied that Borsgschatz is a lesbian. Villaume said that is not true.

The Star-Observer, whose sister publication is the River Falls Journal, published an article about Borsgschatz in the Dec. 31, 2009, edition, of the paper.

The story noted that she was the first woman patrol officer hired in the sheriff's department under then-sheriff Dennis Hillstead.

Shortly thereafter, the story was posted to both the Hudson Star-Observer and Rivertowns websites.

According to the suit, in early January 2010, a post with sexual overtones was added to the site.

Next came a post, allegedly by Standaert, which said, "I know for a fact that Cathy played a different instrument in the band..."

Borsgschatz talked with Hillstead on Jan. 6, 2010, and discussed what she interpreted as sexual harassment on the website.

On Jan. 7, 2010, Hillstead disciplined Standaert with three days off without pay -- a penalty Villaume says was not severe enough.

Both Hillstead, and eventual sheriff-elect John Shilts, indicated throughout the next 12-15 months that they supported language in Standaert's discipline letter referring to sexual harassment. That, despite a union (Wisconsin Professional Police Association) request to remove the harassment language.

The issue continued to fester at the county level throughout the year.

Hillstead retired at the end of December 2010. He then stated any decisions about the case would be up to Shilts.

According to the suit, on March 11, 2011, Borsgschatz was informed by Union President Dean Fayerweather that the disciplinary letter had been changed and there was no mention of sexual harassment or discrimination.

The suit says Borsgschatz fears that because the language was allegedly changed, Standaert will likely become her superior.

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

The suit asks for both actual and punitive damages.