Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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. 

A class of women working as truck drivers for CRST are waiting on a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that could revive claims that CRST retaliated against them by placing them on the equivalent of unpaid leave for complaining about sexual harassment. The  Complaint in  Sellars, et al. v. CRST Expedited, Inc., No. 1:15-cv-117 (N.D. Iowa), was filed in October 2015.  The women who brought this case were team truck drivers who were paired up with one co-driver to run long haul routes across the country. The drivers earned pay by the mile, switching off driving duties and sleeping in an onboard berth area so that the truck rarely needed to stop. The plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually harassed by male co-drivers and driving trainers, who they claimed subjected them to sexual come-ons, requests for sexual favors in exchange for good driver training feedback, offensive sexual touching–including waking up in the sleeper berth with a male co-driver on top of them, and even threats of violence if they would not comply with sexual demands. They alleged that even after CRST claimed it had banned any particular alleged harasser from driving with women, the women went on to be sexually harassed by subsequent male co-drivers. For some women, this was enough to push them out of the industry altogether.

Plaintiffs also alleged, on behalf of a class of women drivers, that when a woman on a truck complained she was being sexually harassed by her co-driver, CRST’s standard response was to remove her from the truck, with the effect of immediately stopping her pay, and letting the alleged harasser continue driving and earning money. Plaintiffs argued that this discouraged women from making complaints. The district court initially granted both a hostile work environment and a retaliation class, allowing the Plaintiffs named in the Complaint to represent other women with similar alleged experiences.   However, following discovery, the district court granted CRST’s motion to de-certify the hostile work environment class, and to dismiss both the retaliation class and individual claims.

This was not the end: the three named plaintiffs decided to appeal the dismissal of the class retaliation claim and their individual hostile work environment claims to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 19-2708, Sellars et al. v. CRST Expedited, Inc.). There, they argued that under very unusual circumstances such as these, where a woman may be harassed by multiple co-drivers sequentially, even if any particular alleged harasser might be banned from driving with women in the future, it can be sufficiently clear that harassment in the workplace is endemic that the employer is put on notice of the need to do more to address the problem. They also reiterated their argument that a pay cut inevitably deters women from complaining about sexual harassment, so taking women off their trucks as a response to their complaints is retaliatory. The Eighth Circuit heard oral argument on September 22, 2020, [available here: http://media-oa.ca8.uscourts.gov/OAaudio/2020/9/192708.MP3], and since then the women have been awaiting a decision. They hope to not only secure justice for themselves and other women at CRST, but to make clear once and for all that women should be free to come forward about sexual harassment in the workplace without fearing a pay cut.

This verdict of $910,000 is a reminder that employers are required to take prompt action when they become aware an employee is being sexually harassedAutozone’s failure to take action when it knew of the sexual harassment resulted in the highest sexual harassment verdict in North and South Carolina in 2018. The jury awarded $100,000 for emotional distress damages for Defendant’s violation of Title VII based on sexual harassment. It awarded $600,000 in punitive damages for the Title VII violation. In addition, the jury determined that the company was liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the Plaintiff, awarding $150,000 in damages for severe emotional distress, and an additional $60,000 in punitive damages. Because Title VII caps allowable damages, the verdict was initially reduced to a total of $510,000.

AutoZoners, LLC appealed the verdict, asking for a new trial, and alternatively asking the Court to throw out $150,000 in emotional distress damages, along with $260,000 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found there was no basis for a new trial, and that the jury’s award of damages for emotional distress under Title VII and “severe” emotional distress for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress was not duplicative. Thus, the Court upheld Plaintiff’s emotional distress damages award totaling $250,000, for violating Title VII and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, only vacating the punitive damages award, because of  the standards for holding a company legally responsible for such damages.

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 discrimination may serve as the modern-day equivalent of the sit-in or other demonstration.NY-Post-7-15-13-McQueen-Ibela-thumb-467x348-68931-1-300x224

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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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.The 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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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:

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The 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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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.

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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.

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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.

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