ROCKFORD — Earlier this year, Matthew Harkey was sentenced to more than 100 years behind bars for kidnapping and raping a woman, but a lawsuit alleges an employer could have prevented it from happening.
Court documents show five former female employees of Napleton Auto Werks in Rockford are suing the employer for allegedly negligently hiring, retaining and supervising Harkey.
ROCKFORD — More than three years after kidnapping and raping a woman, a Roscoe man finds out how long he’ll spend in jail for his crimes.
The civil complaint alleges the company hired Harkey in January of 2013 and continued to employ him despite the fact he was a registered sex offender.
Harkey has a long criminal past. In 1999, Harkey went to jail for 120 days for criminal sexual abuse and is a registered sex offender on Illinois State Police's website. Harkey was also charged with seven other criminal offenses in Winnebago County between 1999 and 2009 with charges ranging from theft to failing to register new addresses despite being a registered sex offender.
The lawsuit alleges Napleton wasn't only negligent in hiring Harkey, but also didn't listen to several complaints of harassment.
According to the civil complaint, one of the women reported Harkey's criminal past to management to which she was allegedly told to 'mind her own business.'
The women in the complaint say Harkey continually made unwelcome comments about their appearance, asked them to go on dates, offered to buy the women cars if they would go on dates with him, threatened to impact the women's commission-based work on whether or not they'd date him.
Despite these allegations and several alleged referrals to management, the women say Harkey was never disciplined. The complaint alleges Harkey only left the company after he kidnapped and raped one of the women in the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges Harkey used the Napleton company shuttle to take him to a rental company where he got the car he would use to carry out the kidnapping plot.
Were Complaints Filed:
Napleton outright denies several of the complaints in their answer, but there's a particular sticking point with whether or not complaints were made about Harkey's behavior to management.
On several occasions, the women say they immediately reported Harkey's actions to management at Napleton, but the company denies almost all reports of misconduct and harassment by Harkey.
The company only admits a couple of complaints, one of which they claim didn't last even two minutes about one of the women feeling "uncomfortable" around Harkey.
However, there is a third party who also answered the women's complaints, Matthew Harkey himself. Much of his testimony lands in line with Napleton except for one key detail.
One of the points the women hammer home throughout their complaint is that Napleton ignored their constant reports of sexual harassment without ever disciplining or punishing Harkey. Napleton says they suspended Harkey and "admonished" him on several occasions, but in Harkey's testimony, he admits the women's claim that he was never punished by the company.
As for whether or not the women filed complaints, that will only be clear if discovery documents are made available and/or the case goes to trial.
Napleton Autowerks responded to a request for comment from 13 Investigates saying,
We dispute the vast majority of the assertions in the lawsuit and trust that the litigation process will vindicate Napleton of any wrongdoing. As to the recent criminal conviction of Mr. Harkey; [name redacted] worked for Napleton for less than a month in December 2018. The evidence in the criminal trial established that Mr. Harkey and [name redacted] knew each other for years prior to her short tenure at Napleton and the heinous action in March 2019 for which he was convicted had nothing to do with his or her employment at Napleton.
However, despite asking in the originally inquiry and following up after getting this statement, Napleton Autowerks has not answered our questions as to whether or not they did a background check on Harkey before his employment, and whether or not they knew his history as a registered sex offender.
What comes next:
Criminally, this case is already closed with Harkey being sentenced to more than a century behind bars for his kidnapping and rape case.
How long the civil case takes is another question entirely. The next date is a status hearing scheduled for June 29.
13 Investigates attended the last hearing in April which went on for two hours with attorneys for both sides coming in and out of Judge Lisa Fabiano's chambers. None of the discussions were held in the courtroom proper.
WREX will continue to follow this story as it develops.