Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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:

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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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.

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. § 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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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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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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