Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts held that a reasonable jury could find that Palmer Fire District Number One, Palmer Water District Number One, and two public officials (collectively “Palmer Fire and Water”) subjected former employee Lisa Koss to a sexually hostile work environment and then retaliated against her when she complained about the sexual harassment she experienced.

Koss alleges that her former supervisor, William Cole, sexually harassed her.  Among other things, he allegedly leered and stared at her in a sexual manner while making comments such as “I wish I had somebody like you at home…baby I could make your head spin.”  He allegedly made other crude sexual comments to her as well, such as when Koss was eating a banana Cole said, with a smirk on his face, “I’ve never seen anybody eat a banana like you before.”  On another occasion, Cole allegedly grabbed Koss’s shirt and tried to look down it to see if she was wearing a bra.  Other instances of sexual harassment occurred in the workplace as well between 2008 and August 2012, when Koss stopped working for Palmer Fire and Water.

Koss complained to Palmer Fire and Water management about Cole’s sexual harassment and she alleges that management retaliated against her because of her complaint.  After Koss filed her sexual harassment complaint, her hours were cut by more than half and she was later fired.

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This year, “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power,” a documentary about the life of Anita Hill, will be showing in theaters around the country.  In October 1991, Hill famously testified before Congress about how Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked for him at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Hill testified, in graphic detail, that Thomas often spoke of his sexual prowess, discussed pornographic films that he watched, and pressured her to have sex with him.  Despite Hill’s testimony, the U.S. Senate confirmed Thomas as a Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many decried the decision of the Senate to confirm Thomas.  One criticism of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted the confirmation hearings, was that it refused to call other witnesses who it knew would have testified that Thomas sexually harassed them, too.  Hill continues to think that was a mistake because it “cast this as a ‘he said, she said’ situation, even though these women had been subpoenaed and sat waiting for three days to testify.”  “That was a clear disservice to the process and to the American public,” said Hill. 

In another recent interview, Hill commented on current sexual harassment problems in the workplace.  She said “I think people are well aware that they have a right to come forward.  But many people have a fear that the processes will not give them a fair hearing.  Even for those who complain, I think we’ve fallen down in terms of the investigative process.  We still have a lot of challenges in terms of making sure that the people who are found guilty of harassment suffer the consequences of their behavior.”

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Yesterday, the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) found reasonable grounds to believe that the City of Portland subjected David Tanguay, of Falmouth, to sexual harassment in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA). Mr. Tanguay, a former trash collector with the City, alleged that his female supervisor sexually harassed him by, among other things, drawing a penis on his evaluation. After he complained about his supervisor’s harassment, he found that someone had put pornographic DVDs in his locker with notes taped to them, one of which called him a “fag” and another threatened him if he didn’t stop complaining about his supervisor.

The Commissioners on the MHRC sided with MHRC investigator, Barbara Lelli, and the findings in her report. Ms. Lelli concluded that the City of Portland did not do enough to stop the harassment or remedy the hostile work environment when it became aware of what was happening.

As anyone who has gone through it can tell you, working in a hostile work environment where you are subjected to sexual harassment can be incredibly stressful. Even a “big guy,” as Mr. Tanguay describes himself, can suffer extreme emotional distress when his supervisor or co-workers harass him. Sexual harassment violates both Maine and federal law. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.

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A case in New York City illustrates one reason why it is important to retain an experienced attorney to represent you if you have to file a lawsuit against an employer who has violated your rights. In this case, a former attorney named Alexandra Marchuk sued her former firm, Faruqi & Faruqi, for sexual harassment. Ms. Marchuk claims that a senior partner in the firm, Juan Monteverde, made unwanted sexual advances toward her and also once forcibly had sex with her in the firm’s offices. The firm, in response, sued Ms. Marchuk for defamation. In its lawsuit against Ms. Marchuk, Faruqi & Faruqi claims that she has made false accusations in her lawsuit that have damaged the firm’s reputation.

This is an example of an employer “playing hardball.” If Ms. Marchuk did not have competent counsel to represent her, she could not only lose her case but also be required to pay for damages that Faruqi & Faruqi incurred as a result of her lawsuit. It is unclear how Ms. Marchuk’s attorney will respond to Faruqi & Faruqi’s lawsuit against her but one option is to file another lawsuit against Faruqi & Faruqi for retaliation. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against a current or former employee because she has complained of sexual harassment. Faruqi & Faruqi’s lawsuit could be a form of retaliation and, in fact, a retaliation claim in Ms. Marchuk’s case may be easier for her to win than her underlying sexual harassment case.

If your employer has violated your rights, don’t try to go it alone. Contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights and your options.

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The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in addition to Maine and other New England states, has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, ruled today that a reasonable jury could determine that the University of Puerto Rico unlawfully subjected a former employee to sexual harassment. The former employee, Dr. Melissa Gerald, alleged that her supervisor, Dr. Edmundo Kraiselburd, sexually harassed her.

Gerald and Kraiselburd engaged in a week-long sexual affair in 2005 which Gerald ended soon after it began. According to Gerald, Kraiselburd tried to pursue another sexual relationship with her years later and, when she continued to rebuff him, he acted vindictively toward her. Some of his harassment included: grabbing her breasts; sexually propositioning her; and crassly asking in front of co-workers why she would not have sex with him. Gerald also maintains that Kraiselburd used his authority to demote her because she refused to have sex with him. The University argued that it demoted Gerald because of poor performance but Gerald presented documentary evidence to prove that she was performing well right up until the point when she rebuffed Kraiselburd’s sexual advances.

Despite this evidence, the trial court in Puerto Rico found that no reasonable person could believe that Gerald suffered sexual harassment that was severe enough to adversely affect her employment. While this may seem outrageous, it is not uncommon for trial courts to overstep their authority and prevent juries from deciding whether an employer broke the law. In this case, the First Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to Puerto Rico for a trial.

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A security director for the National Basketball Association (NBA) has sued the NBA, USA basketball, and UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma because of retaliation she experienced after she rebuffed Auriemma’s sexual advances. The security director, Kelley Hardwick, claims that Auriemma’s sexual advance occurred in 2009 when she was working in Russia at a basketball tournament. She claims that Auriemma followed her back to her hotel room, grabbed her, and tried to kiss her. Hardwick, a former NYPD detective, claims that she rebuffed his advance and told him he was out of line. This year, according to the lawsuit, Auriemma demanded that the NBA remove Hardwick from the security detail at the London Olympics as retaliation for her rejection of his sexual advance.

Hardwick told the NBA about Auriemma’s retaliatory motive, gave it a list of witnesses to support her story, and asked that it investigate. According to her, the NBA did not talk to any of her witnesses or to Auriemma about the allegations. Instead, it chose to stand by its decision to ban her from working security at the London Olympics. Hardwick subsequently filed her lawsuit. “I was willing to close this story in 2009,” Hardwick said in an interview. “If Geno had not interfered with my job and my livelihood, I would not have filed this lawsuit.”

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is an all too common problem that continues to persist. If you have experienced sexual harassment, or retaliation because you opposed sexual harassment at work, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer for advice.

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Justice Nancy Mills of the Cumberland County Superior Court has found that St. Joseph’s Manor, now known as St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation and Residence, subjected its employee Trudy Little to unlawful sexual harassment. Ms. Little worked for St. Joseph’s as a cook. Her supervisor Joe Mitchell is the one who sexually harassed her. Among other things, Mr. Mitchell wrote Ms. Little sexually explicit letters. He sent her text messages two or three times per week, and some had sexual connotations. For instance, he once said that he would lay on the floor and stick a broom handle “up his butt.” Mr. Mitchell also talked to Ms. Little about sex and made comments about the size of her breasts. St. Joseph’s management was well aware of Mr. Mitchell’s sexual harassment but all they did was tell him to “knock it off” or “stop.” Consequently, the court found that St. Joseph’s Manor did not do enough to stop Mr. Mitchell from sexually harassing Ms. Little.

Due to the sexual harassment she experienced, and the fact that it caused her to suffer from panic attacks, Ms. Little felt that she had no choice but to resign. While Justice Mills believed that Ms. Little experienced unlawful sexual harassment, she did not find that a reasonable person in Ms. Little’s position would’ve felt she had no choice but to resign. This is not an uncommon result. Many courts have found that women have suffered unlawful sexual harassment while at the same time finding that a reasonable person in the woman’s position would not have felt compelled to resign.

Justice Mills awarded Ms. Little $20,000 plus interest. Under the Maine Human Rights Act, St. Joseph’s will likely have to pay Ms. Little’s attorneys’ fees and costs too. The Maine Employee Rights Group and Guy Loranger worked on behalf of Ms. Little to achieve this result.

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In Collazo v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Manufacturing, Inc., the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston held that Mr. Collazo’s case against his former employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, could go forward. (The First Circuit is the federal appellate court which serves the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the territory of Puerto Rico). Mr. Collazo alleged that Bristol-Myers Squibb retaliated against him because, when a co-worker told him about sexual harassment she experienced, he helped her complain to human resources (HR) about the sexual harassment. Mr. Collazo helped by arranging a meeting with HR and accompanying the co-worker to the meeting.

The First Circuit applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County. In Crawford, the Supreme Court rejected the attempts of some federal courts to permit employers to retaliate against employees who opposed sexual harassment unless the employee was the first to initiate the complaint. The First Circuit held that, even if Mr. Collazo said nothing about the sexual harassment to HR, the company still could not retaliate against him because his actions implied that he opposed the sexual harassment.

If you experience sexual harassment or your employer retaliates against you because you have opposed sexual harassment, you should speak to a lawyer experienced in representing employees in these types of cases.

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