January 9, 2015

Ignoring the Problem: Is AutoZone Indifferent to Workplace Sexual Harassment?

In December 2013, a victim of sexual harassment--a man--filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging that working in Autozone's Whiteville, North Carolina store, a female coworker:

created a hostile work environment based on Complainant's gender . . . by . . . pinching Complainant's buttocks, twisting his nipples, and rubbing his crotch, and making statements like, "I'm sorry, I'm just used to doing that to my boys."
In about late March 2013, the victim began complaining to his supervisor, AutoZone's Manager of Commercial Sales, as well as AutoZone's Assistant Manager. After the victim discovered they did not take his complaints seriously, he made recordings documenting management's failure to act:Smith.png

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October 28, 2014

Racism at University of Illinois-Chicago: UIC Fails to Protect Mechanic from Harassment after Noose Appears

Employers are obligated to act promptly when they learn about ongoing workplace sexual or racial harassment. When employers ignore workplace harassment, the public will find out. Media coverage is an important tool for exposing and fighting workplace racism and sexism.

Media attention typically motivates employers to act quickly to remedy racial harassment to show the public that they take these issues seriously. An employer that acts promptly to correct the situation, in the face of this negative media attention, has an opportunity to foster a culture of tolerance, and potentially, to avoid liability for the harassment. However, when employers have knowledge of harassment and fail to act in the face of media coverage, their lack of concern for the victims of the harassment will be showcased for the public.

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July 20, 2013

Plaintiff is Entitled to Read the Defendant's Email

DemandsGraphic.pngFriedman & Houlding LLP routinely seeks production of e-mail, texts and video that contain racially and sexually offensive words and images, sent by managers. These are the same managers charged with enforcing the employer's discrimination and harassment policy. More often than not, we find these same managers are downloading offensive material, and emailing the material to others at the employer. Courts have held this evidence admissible on whether the employer had an effective anti-harassment policy, the bias of those charged with enforcing the alleged anti-discrimination policy, and whether managers were negligent in responding to complaints.

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July 19, 2013

Civil Rights Struggle in the Press and Courts

Friedman & Houlding LLP has a multi-disciplinary approach to civil rights advocacy. We believe civil rights have never been won solely or even primarily in court. Public struggle is protected activity under civil rights statutes and the First Amendment, and the press coverage of employer NY Post 7-15-13 McQueen Ibela.pngdiscrimination may serve as the modern-day equivalent of the sit-in or other demonstration. Employers often view the threat of a jury verdict, or the cost of a settlement, as a cost of doing business (often covered by insurance), and fail to correct the problem that caused the lawsuit. That is why our firm always issues a press release when we file a case, which usually results in newspaper and/or television coverage.

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December 25, 2012

In Our Little Town...Discrimination

My town has wonderful open-minded people and great schools. It's, a lovely community. So, the fact that young, African-American woman, had to bring a lawsuit against a local restaurant for employment discrimination, tells you that racial discrimination can rear its ugly head anywhere.

Abby, who is African-American, and Becca, who is white, are friends. This took place when they were seniors in high school. Becca was leaving her position at the Japanese restaurant where she worked as the Greeter. She had promised her manager she would bring someone in to replace her. When she introduced Abby to her manager, he said he could not use her because she was black. Abby filed suit for race discrimination, represented by Friedman & Houlding LLP.
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At the same time she filed suit, the she organized a protest in front of the restaurant, which was reported in the press. Some of the signs carried by the protesters called for a boycott.

As reported by another local newspaper, business dropped 60%, and the restaurant soon settled. In the settlement the restaurant agreed proactively seek to hire persons of color, and consented to a court order prohibiting it from discriminating in the future. It also paid the victim $25,000, which she was able to use towards her college tuition.

Seventeen magazine did a very sweet story about the case.

November 30, 2012

Landlord Settles Suit over Sex Offender Super for $2 million

As the NY Post reported, Stanley Katz, the "Upper West Side landlord who knowingly employed a child rapist as his building super will cough up $2 million to settle . . ." this sexual harassment lawsuit. super sleaze.JPG

Friedman & Houlding LLP represented the victims in this sexual harassment suit, working together with federal prosecutors. In the settlement, the defendants consented to a Court Order prohibiting Stanley Katz from managing his buildings, prohibiting all defendants from sexually harassing tenants in the future, and requiring meaningful procedures for tenants to report any future sexual harassment. The victims in the case, including Ms Engle who was photographed for the Post article, showed enormous courage and determination, by facing down their child rapist super and landlord. As Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York noted, "The $2,058,000, agreement represents the largest recovery ever in a sexual harassment suit brought by the United States under the Fair Housing Act."

September 28, 2011

Former Vermont Corrections Officer Files Suit for Harassment

As reported in Vermont Today, Michael Davis, a former corrections officer for the state of Vermont, has filed a lawsuit against the state's Department of Corrections alleging sexual harassment, discrimination based on disability, and retaliation. The lawsuit, filed by sexual harassment attorneys Friedman & Houlding LLP, on June 23, 2011 in the U.S. District Court for Vermont, seeks damages for Davis' emotional distress and lost wages, as well as punitive damages.

prison09282011.jpgThe lawsuit describes the facts of the case as follows:

Davis began working for the Department of Corrections at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vermont in 2005. In 2007, an inmate punched Davis in the groin. A year later, Davis was still experiencing pain in his groin area, so he took a two-week leave from work. He returned to work in January 2009 still in pain, and he found the beginning of a pattern of harassment and abuse that would continue until he left his employment there. First a supervisor e-mailed Davis information on sexually-transmitted diseases, which he took as a reference to his groin pain. Soon after, he received as e-mail with a photograph of a nude male doll holding its groin area. Subsequent e-mails included photographs showing Davis' face placed on nude male bodies and other images Davis found highly offensive.

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September 28, 2011

Michigan High School Students Suing School District for Racial Discrimination Get Help From the U.S. Government

A civil rights lawsuit has received some assistance from the federal government. The United States Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by racial discrimination attorney Joshua Friedman on behalf of a group of Michigan high school students.

The plaintiffs, all of whom are black at a high school where only about 3% of the student body is black, endured a constant pattern of insults, abuse, and harassment from other students based on their race. This included insults, threats, physical altercations, and vandalism of the students' property. The plaintiffs complained to teachers and school administrators but received little to no support. The school enacted a racial discrimination policy in 2005, but the harassment continued.

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September 14, 2011

New York Attorney Joshua Friedman Intervenes in Apartment Sexual Harassment Suit on Behalf of Tenants

Five women have intervened in a lawsuit brought by the United States attorney general against Stanley Katz and William Barnason for sexual harassment constituting multiple violations of the Fair Housing Act. The women, who are represented by New York sexual harassment attorney Joshua Friedman, were residents of apartment buildings in Manhattan's Upper West Side owned by Katz. Barnason served as superintendent of the apartment buildings.

The Today Show reported on this story in February 2010 and interviewed several of the residents who intervened in the lawsuit:

The government's lawsuit alleges that Barnason engaged in a years-long pattern of behavior that created an atmosphere of sexual hostility and harassment for the buildings' female residents. Katz is alleged to have ignored this conduct at best and facilitated it at worst. Living under conditions of near-constant harassment, the lawsuit says, constituted discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and deprived the residents of their rights to the property protected by that law. While the attorney general's lawsuit is brought on behalf of the American people, the claim brought directly on behalf of the residents may allow them to present their case and recover damages directly.

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September 14, 2011

Department of Justice Sues New York Apartment Owner and Superintendent for Years of Sexual Harassment

NYC00061.09142011.jpgThe U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Stanley Katz, the owner and manager of three apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and William Barnason, the former superintendent of those buldings. The suit alleges violations of the Fair Housing Act in the form of an ongoing and pervasive campaign of sexual harassment and sexual assault against multiple female residents of the apartments over a period of years.

Barnason is a Level III registered sex offender who served fourteen years in prison for the sexual assault of several children and one adult. Katz employed Barnason as the superintendent of at least three apartment buildings for several years. The lawsuit complains of an atmosphere of sexual harassment fostered by both Katz and Barnason, and of specific acts of sexual harassment and even assault committed by Barnason.

Barnason is alleged to have demanded sexual relations with female residents in exchange for ordinary maintenance services, reductions in or forgiveness of rent, or even simply cessation of verbal abuse. Several residents allege that Barnason drugged a female resident and attempted to take her to a vacant apartment late at night until another resident intervened. Both defendants are said to have engaged in frequent verbal harassment of residents, referring to them as "hookers" and "whores."

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July 5, 2011

New Jersey School Racial Harassment Case Settles

We discussed a peer racial harassment case that we were taking to trial in late 2009. The case was against the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education in Sussex County, New Jersey. It involved a multi-racial teen named "E.L." who was subjected to racial slurs during his 13 months at Lenape Valley Regional High School. E.L.'s parents, Edward and Leeann Lee, claimed that even after the harassment was reported, the school did almost nothing to discipline the harassers or prevent future harassment. After E.L. was expelled from school for fighting with one harasser, his parents sued the school board for money damages, a finding that E.L. was expelled without due process, and a finding that the school board failed to remedy the racial harassment.

Since that time, the plaintiffs and defendants have reached a settlement.

Prior to the settlement, the defendants tried to have the case dismissed through a motion for summary judgment, however, the Court rejected their arguments, and ordered the case to trial.

Hopefully the settlement will allow E.L. and his family to move on with their lives, and E.L. to enroll in a school where he will not face racial harassment. E.L.'s case is far from the only one in which the school administrators failed to protect students from harassment and bullying. With an increase in the ways in which students can hurt one another -- through social media websites and Twitter, for instance -- it remains a challenge for an experienced school racial harassment attorney to determine whether to hold the school accountable for the students' behavior. In E.L.'s case, the harassment took place largely on school grounds, but future cases could involve conduct that is entirely online.

If you or someone you know is experiencing racial harassment, sexual harassment, don't hesitate to contact a seasoned school harassment attorney to help you file a claim against the offenders. No one should have to fear going to work or school every day.

July 5, 2011

Sexual Harassment Suit Results in Largest Settlement in Washington County History

In May, two female employees of the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Arkansas received the biggest settlement in Washington County history: $395,000. Lori Schmidt, a former sergeant, and Stephanie Guenther, a former corporal, sued the Sheriff's Office for sexual harassment in November 2009. They claimed that Sheriff Tim Helder and his subordinates permitted open discussion of sexual practices and that the strip search of female inmates was ordered in front of video cameras.

This blog has discussed some of the past humiliations Schmidt and Guenther had to endure before achieving this victory. Sheriff Helder called them "liars" on television. Transcripts of witnesses were filled with criticisms of Captain Osburn, whom they said liked to discuss breast augmentation and preferred to have women prisoners strip searched in the hallway instead of the women's showers so that he could watch on the monitors in his cubical. When Schmidt voiced a complaint, she was transferred to the night shift, even though with her seniority, she could have remained on the day shift. After she sued for sexual harassment and retaliation, she was moved to an even worse shift that prevented her from seeing her family.

In September 2009, Schmidt and Guenther filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Two months later, they filed their complaint in the Western District of Arkansas pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and various laws of the state. The specific allegations included Captain Osburn making inappropriate remarks about the type of breast augmentation that two coworkers intended to get, crude descriptions of sexual practices involving chocolate syrup and peanut butter, and telling one coworker whom she could and could not have sex with. Although Osburn's "wife swapping" parties were widely known--he "invited" junior officers and deputies in his office--he was not disciplined. One senior officer also knew about a photo of Guenther's breast that Captain Osburn shared with the rest of the office without Guenther's knowledge.

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November 13, 2009

Sexual Harassment was Just the Beginning of Their Ordeal: Their Boss Calls them a "Liar" on TV

What do you do when you report sexual harassment, your employer does an investigation, the evidence clearly shows that you were sexually harassed, and then you employer issues a report stating your allegations were "not sustained." And commences to retaliate against you. And gets on TV and calls you a liar.

This is exactly what happened to Sergeant Schmidt and Corporal Guenther of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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November 9, 2009

New Jersey school racial harassment case heading to trial

We are in the final days before our pretrial conference in this peer racial harassment case heading to trial in Newark, New Jersey. In this case, against the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education, and Lenape Valley Regional High School Principal Douglas deMarrais, our clients Edward and Leeann Lee sued to recover damages to their then-teenage multi-racial son, who was harassed at school. They brought claims under federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination in school.

In the lawsuit, the defendants admitted much of the conduct the plaintiffs alleged in their Complaint. In fact, the principal admitted that E.L. (the student) was subjected to "an inordinate number of incidents [of racial slurs]" during his 13 months at Lenape Valley Regional High School, where he was one of only a small percentage of minority students. During discovery in this case, Mr. deMarrais admitted that between November 2004 and January 2006, Leeann and Edward Lee complained of racial slurs made to their son on multiple occasions, many of which the school confirmed. Defendants admitted the Lees complained that during his Freshman year (November 2004 thought June 2005) their son "E.L." was called the "n" word on the school bus on at least three occasions by three different students, another racial slur by a student on the basketball team, and another racial slur by three girls; and between September 2005 and January 2006, their son was called "ghetto or gangster" by a student who had called him the "n" word the previous year, called the "n" word by a girl who had used the word towards their son the previous year, was told he would be "picking [the] cotton" of a Caucasian student, called the "n" word by that same student a week later, and called the "n" word by another student shortly after.

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October 10, 2009

It Takes Courage to Speak Out About Sexual Harassment

Harassers abuse the positions of power they occupy, such as supervisor, or professor. Most of us are too afraid of the consequences to speak out. Those who do may be ostracized, disbelieved and face retaliation. But if we do not find the courage to speak out about civil rights violations, they continue.

Professor Chandler had been the subject of sexual harassment, racial harassment and retaliation complaints at Edinboro University since the mid-1990s. Although the university received these complaints it did not stop Professor Chandler from sexually harassing students. Some students who made complaints faced waits of years for a response and then were told that unless they testified in a formal hearing there was nothing the university could do. By then they had graduated and just wanted to forget their nightmare, so nothing changed,

Cameron Aulner is no ordinary young man.

Cameron Aulner was one of the students whom Chandler had sexually harassed. Like other victims, the University ignored his complaints. Cameron fought back. As Joe Mandak reported for the AP, he obtained civil rights counsel from the Friedman & Houlding LLP which filed a lawsuit against Edinboro University and Professor Chandler.

Without people like Cameron Aulner who find the courage to fight we would have no civil rights. By standing up to a powerful adversary Cameron has made things better for all Edinboro University students. Read the Complaint.