Articles Posted in Retaliation

A federal judge in the Western District of Oklahoma has denied Northeastern State University’s motion to dismiss a former employee’s claims of sexual harassment and retaliation under both Title VII and Title IX, after a coworker allegedly put his hands down her pants. 

 Deanie Hensley, the plaintiff in the action, worked for NSU in Tahlequah, Oklahoma for approximately 13 years. She alleged in her First Amended Complaint that multiple supervisors and co-workers engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior over that time, including sharing sexual cartoons and remarking on women’s bodies, but Hensley’s complaints resulted in no changes. After her complaint about a particular supervisor resulted in retaliation including stripping Hensley of job duties, she decided to take a position with a contract company that provided the university’s mail services. The joint employment with NSU and this company allowed her to continue working at NSU and using her expertise and familiarity with the NSU campus and personnel. However, Hensley alleges that one of the coworkers who had a habit of making offensive remarks sought her out on the job, then: “reached across the counter and put his hands down her jeans, with the backs of his hands against her stomach. He reached down to her panty line. He then pulled her belt buckle and shook it, commenting on how she had been ‘losing weight.'”  

 Shaken and traumatized by the assault, Hensley alleges that she complained to NSU campus police. Following even more complaints that the harasser was following Ms. Hensley and approaching near her in violation of a protective order, Hensley alleges in her Complaint that Steven Turner, NSU’s President, threatened the contract company with the loss of its contract if it did not remove Ms. Hensley from the NSU campus. Ms. Hensley alleges the inevitable result of this threat would be that she would lose her job–and that in fact, she did lose her job as a consequence. 

Marcus Staples worked for Advanced Technology Recycling, an electronics de-manufacturing company headquartered in Pontiac, Illinois, with seven locations across the country. In Staples’ Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, he alleges that whenever the company’s project manager was on site, he referred to Staples and Staples’ African-American coworkers as “boy”—while referring to white co-coworkers by their given names. One of Staples’ coworkers has stated under oath that he “was so upset” by the manager’s “offensive racism, I frequently complained to [our supervisor] about it myself. During 2019, I complained to [her] about [the] behavior on approximately a weekly basis, either on my own or with co-workers. She said she would take care of it, but nothing changed to remedy the situation.” 

 The conduct escalated: Staples alleges that the manager derisively compared him to a monkey, and when Staples was offended and upset, the next day the manager handed him a baggie of fried chicken in front of multiple coworkers as a mocking “apology.”  

 Staples alleges in his Complaint, and multiple co-workers confirm under oath, that when the manager returned to the worksite after these incidents, he resumed calling Staples and his African-American coworkers “boy” —  the same as before. Staples alleges that the company went on to retaliate against him for filing an EEOC charge, baselessly disciplining him. When he refused to work through the EEOC to try to settle the charge [which indicated that Staples planned to sue], Staples alleges ATR fired him. 

Friedman & Houlding LLP clients Derick Brown, Atiba Flemons, and Jeffrey Taylor, have brought a Class Action suit on behalf of Black employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, alleging that the University has a pattern or practice of tolerating racial harassment against its Black employees, and that the office charged with investigating complaints of racial harassment is itself discriminatory in its handling of complaints.

One former Office of Access and Equity (OAE) Investigator, a non-party witness in the lawsuit, testified that she “was working in a hostile work environment,” describing the reasons that she left her employment at OAE (formerly ODEA), the office charged with investigating complaints of harassment and discrimination at the Urbana-Champaign campus. Referring to Director of OAE, Heidi Johnson, the witness testified, “It was my perception and I believe the perception — because it was told to me by other colleagues, that Heidi favored our white colleagues.”

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The witness testified that she did not think Director Johnson treated employees of color in OAE equitably, describing Johnson’s indifference on issues concerning diversity and inclusion and personnel actions driven by bias, including stripping away the title of the witness, a person of color, without a stated basis, favoring White employees with less experience for promotions, and issuing the witness with a baseless disciplinary action. This treatment ultimately drove the witness to leave the University of Illinois after working many years as an OAE investigator.

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