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.
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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,
Our practice is limited to hostile work and school environment cases based on sexual harassment, gender harassment, racial harassment, sexual orientation harassment, disability harassment and harassment based onother protected categories such as religion, national origin and age(over 40).
Not all hostile work and school environments are illegal. The abusive conduct must be motivated by the victim’s sex, race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age or membership in someother protected category. Examples of hostile work environments which are illegal are:
The use of racial, religious, or national origin slurs. Such conduct makes clear that the harassment is motivated by racial, religious or national origin prejudice. The use of harassing symbols may make motive equally clear, such as showing an African-American the confederate flag.
Ms Houlding is of Counsel to the Firm. She graduated cum laude from Carleton College in 1992 and cum laude from the University of Minnesota School of Law in 1995. Ms Houlding focuses on all aspects of hostile environment cases, including racial harassment at school, from drafting to trial.