Written by: Daun Lee
Memphis, TN- Four employees at the Memphis location of North Carolina-based New Breed Logistics won a significant victory last month when a jury awarded three women and one man a $1.5 million sexual harassment and retaliation settlement.
The lawsuit was initiated by three women, who were sexually harassed, and one, man who opposed the harassment and agreed to testify in the company’s investigation, in 2012 after they were subjected to retaliation for filing a formal complaint.
The three women were temporary employees at the Avaya Memphis area warehouse. The jury found that a warehouse supervisor subjected the three temporary workers to “unwelcome sexual touching and lewd, obscene and vulgar sexual remarks,” Memphis Business Insider reported.
The three women along with their male co-worker complained to their superiors but after complaining the four employees were fired. The jury found that New Breed was also guilty of retaliation and fired the temporary employees for complaining about the harassment.
Retaliation often, but not always, accompanies allegations of sexual harassment and is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Companies that fire employees because they simply file a complaint incur a great deal of liability. They can be subjected to costly lawsuits and risk the possibility that the accused employee will harass future employees and create a hostile work environment. The fear of retaliation is a primary reason that employees tolerate sexual harassment even though they shouldn’t have to.
After a seven week trial the Tennessee jury ordered New Breed to pay the four former employees $177,094 in back pay, $486,000 in compensatory damages and $850,000 in punitive damages, the Memphis Business Journal reported.
In addition to the financial settlement, New Breed Logistics is facing an injunction that prohibits future incidents of sexual harassment.
There are numerous reasons why a company fails to address these harassment complaints when they arise. In some instances, employers don’t believe the allegations are true or don’t consider the behavior pervasive enough to actually take action against the offending employee.
While there are cases where sexual harassment complaints are not legitimate, a company is ultimately responsible for making certain their employees are safe from harassment and discrimination. If they fail to investigate a compliant or fail to take action against the offender, an employee, after filing a formal complaint, can seek outside assistance by talking with a sexual harassment attorney to determine if their case can be pursued in court.
The employees enlisted the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file the civil suit. While the EEOC won a significant judgment in this case, many people choose to hire private sexual harassment attorneys can because that are capable of securing larger settlements for their clients because federal law limits the amount the EEOC can sue a company for.
Any employee who has been the victim of sexual harassment doesn’t have to tolerate the behavior or fear they will lose their job for speaking up. A Tennessee sexual harassment attorney will make certain your rights and job are protected from a hostile work environment.
Written by: Daun Lee
Slippery Rock, PA- It’s a well-known fact that alcohol makes people lose their inhibitions and sometime their sense, but could the things you say when you’re drunk constitute sexual harassment? The can if you are a college professor a Pennsylvania court recently decided.
A faculty union at Slippery Rock University challenged their employer’s decision to fire a tenured professor who suggested one of his students “suck his d*ck” during a night of excessive drinking at a bar in Madrid, Spain.
The case before the appeals court involved Professor Robert Ammon Jr., who was chaperoning a student trip to Spain in spring of 2010. After returning from the trip one of the female students, who was present that night, confronted Ammon about his comments and raised concerns with the University.
According to the student Ammon went around and asked the students how many sexual partners, then proceeded to boast that he has been with 100 partners and five of those sexcapades occurred after he was married, HigherEd. Com reported.
After that boast, Ammon was asked which student was his favorite to which he replied that if a particular female student, who was in attendance, “sucked his d*ck,” she would be his favorite.
When confronted with the incident by the student Ammon went to University “admitted making improper comments and unprofessional statements, but referred to the comments as “trash talk” and should not be characterized as sexual harassment, court documents stated.
The University then decided to fire Ammon for “unprofessional conduct” for drinking with students and for “making inappropriate sexual comments to and about students,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Ammon along with a faculty union challenged the firing, but in a 2-1 vote the Pennsylvania appeals court decide Slippery Rock University was justified in firing Ammon.
The Judges wrote in their decision that Ammon’s position as professor and department head, “places him in a position of repeated exposure to female students, and he continued his inappropriate behavior after he was disciplined in 2006 for similar conduct, which indicates a substantial risk that female students will be subjected to similar action in the future.”
The Pennsylvania appeals court decision comes shortly after the Department of Education outlined new sexual harassment rules for universities and colleges. Those new rules created a firestorm with free speech advocates who feared that simply asking another person out on a date or flirting with them could be interpreted as sexual harassment.
The DOE rules that created the controversy were more specifically aimed at the forcing Universities and Colleges to take allegations of sexual harassment more seriously and set up a reporting system that would adequately address complaints of sexual harassment and assault.
After creating such a controversy the DOE stated that federal standards of sexual harassment which required that the inappropriate behavior be repeated, pervasive and made the environment of the campus hostile for the victim still stood and that flirting or requesting a date did not meet those standards, but apparently a professor suggesting student perform oral sex does.
Ammon’s comments cost him his career so let this serve as a cautionary tale to teachers and professors; be careful what you say to your students even when you aren’t on campus.
Written by: Daun Lee
New York, NY- A sexual harassment scandal involving New York pols Vito Lopez and Sheldon Silver continues to rage on as two young women have filed federal lawsuits, revealing more salacious details of Lopez’s deviant sexual behavior.
Victoria Burhans, 27, and Chloe Rivera, 25, filed the lawsuits against Lopez and Sheldon Silver last week, accusing the Brooklyn politician of soliciting sex from them, promising sexual favors for a political vote and pointed the finger at Silver for “aiding and abetting” Lopez, the New York Daily News.
Burhans’ suit alleges that Lopez offered to take her to the Governor’s mansion in Albany for a tour, but only is she agreed to engage in a nude escapade in what he described as a “Lincoln bedroom” situation.
But that wasn’t the only request Lopez had for Burhans, according to the Daily News, Lopez also asked the pretty blonde woman to sleep with a top level Cuomo official in order to get a housing bill passed. The suit however does not name the official, and Cuomo’s office says that state officials are not typically invited to the Governor’s mansion.
The Daily News also reported that Lopez asked Burhans to accompany him on a trip to Atlantic City where he forced kisses on her and ran his hands up and down her thighs.
As for Rivera, her lawsuit claims that Lopez would ask her to massage his hands and required her to meet him at bars or restaurants at least twice a week after work.
The two lawsuits, filed in federal and state courts allege that Silver facilitated Lopez’s “unwanted physical contact, unwanted sexual advances and incessant comments about their bodies, clothing and appearance” by not taking appropriate action against the serial harasser.
The two lawsuits state, “As a result of Silver’s complete failure to meet his obligations as the most senior official in the Assembly, Lopez continued his deplorable conduct and sexually harassed Burhans and Rivera.”
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.
Surprisingly, these are the first two formal lawsuits to emerge from the Lopez scandal. Silver came under fire for secretly negotiating two cash settlements totaling $103,000 of taxpayer money for two of Lopez’s targets.
Last month, a JCOPE investigation found that Lopez sexually harassed at least eight women in his Brooklyn office and also revealed that Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was complicit by not appropriately disciplining Lopez which could have prevented further incidents of harassment.
The only steps Silver took to prevent Lopez from harassing any other women was to force him into sexual harassment training and forbade him from hiring any women under the age of 18, but simply wasn’t enough.
In the wake of the JCOPE report, Lopez resigned instead of being forced out, but this lawsuit could signal the end to Silver’s almost two decade career.
Lopez’s case demonstrates the trouble that can ensue when sexual harassment goes unaddressed. Sometimes a slap on the wrist is not enough to stop someone who obviously can control their impulses.
Written by: Daun Lee
Washington, D.C.- While military leaders are receiving a damn good grilling on Capitol Hill over their inability to get a handle of the sexual harassment and assault in the military, one conservative lawmaker decided to give his take on what the root of the prevalent problem is by blaming it on hormones of young men.
In the intense Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, Georgia’s Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said, “The young folks who are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful how we address it on our side,” the Huffington Post reported.
Chambliss added, “But guys, we are not doing our job. You’re not doing yours, and we are not doing ours with the rates we are seeing on sexual assaults.”
In fairness, on some level, hormones combined with the stress of combat may play a small role in the military’s assault problem, but it shouldn’t be perceived as an excuse. And it certainly doesn’t help solve the problem unless the military is thinking about adding saltpeter—a salt substance has been used by the military since the Revolutionary War to suppress libido– to soldiers’ diets again. Oh wait, they just stopped using saltpeter in March of this year, and the sexual assault problem reached its peak in 2012 so that won’t solve the problem.
So what will? Well for one thing, if lawmakers like Chambliss would quit making excuses for the inappropriate behavior and military leaders focused on education, prevention and discipline.
Even though Chambliss was criticizing the military for their inability to keep the prevalent issue at bay, blaming it on hormones is a roundabout way of taking the responsibility out of the individual’s hands and a de facto approval of the “boy’s club” culture in the military.
“I took my eye off the ball in the commands I had,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in response to a statement by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., USA Today reported.
Dempsy admitted that with two raging wars, the military’s focus has been on command, and they dropped the ball on the issue.
The military’s record of punishing soldiers who cross the sexual line is less than stellar. On two occasions top military brass has given soldiers a pass on sexual assault.
In March of this year, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, who was convicted of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman last November, had his charges dismissed by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the commander of 3rd Air Force.
Some lawmakers, namely Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), have suggested that taking punishment of sexual assault and harassment out of the hands of military commanders, instead requiring soldiers to face a civilian court where they can be disciplined more objectively. The problem, according to Gillibrand, is that the military doesn’t “differentiate between a slap on the ass and rape because they merge all these crimes together.”
Top military brass however is reluctant to agree to Gillibrand’s solution, suggesting that it undermines the military structure of power, preferring a different means of preventing assault and harassment, though what that different method is has yet to be established.
Written by: Daun Lee
Washington, DC-A letter sent to the University of Montana by the Department of Education last month set off a firestorm of criticism, with civil libertarian groups alleging the rules violates the right to free speech in college campuses.
Here is a little background on why the Departments of Education and Justice attempted to redefine sexual harassment on college and university campuses.
The anger-inciting letter from the DOE came after an investigation revealed the university bungled almost two dozen complaints of sexual assault on the campus. Within the span of 11 months 18 women were sexually assaulted. Even the university’s football team came under fire after at least two players were accused of rape and several others were accused of assault, NPR reported.
But when the women went to school administrators their allegations weren’t taken seriously. Like Sandusky-Penn State scandal, the University of Montana put their athletics department and their reputation above the physical safety and mental health of their students. So clearly someone had to step in and make the University of Montana identify the problem and take steps to correct their failings.
“We heard from women who lived through sexual assault and were unfairly belittled, disbelieved, or blamed for speaking up about what was done to them,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Austin said in a news conference. This is the experience of many men and women on university campuses across the country, even prestigious ivy-league university Yale has been in trouble over their lax approach to sexual harassment and assault.
Once the DOE and DOJ investigation was complete, the University of Montana agreed to overhaul their sexual harassment and assault reporting policies, and the feds sought to redefine what sexual harassment constituted.
In the letter sent to the University last month, the DOE’s definition was so broad that it identified sexual harassment as, “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” even if an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation” would not perceive the behavior as offensive.
For constitutional watch dog group FIRE, that phrasing could be interpreted to mean that simply asking a person for a date could be misconstrued as sexual harassment and a punishable offense so now the DOE and DOJ is seeking to clarify their definition, saying that sexual harassment is not illegal unless it creates a hostile work environment, according to an opinion piece in the Washington Post.
“’ Sexual harassment is not prohibited by Title IX unless it creates a ‘hostile environment’ — that is, unless the harassment is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent such that it denies or limits the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s programs,’” the DOE wrote in an email. “’To create a hostile environment, something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive must exist.’”
Despite the clarification, FIRE’s Will Greely says the DOE definition of sexual harassment is confusing and accuses the agency of “changing the standards as they go.”
The Departments of Justice and Education are trying to emphasize that simply asking a person out for a date is not pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment, as FIRE seems to think. However, if the behavior is repeated and makes the target so uncomfortable that they are afraid to attend classes or other campus events then the behavior has to be addressed.
Written by: Daun Lee
Indianapolis, IN- A former mechanic for the Sarah Fisher/Hartman IndyCar racing team has filed a lawsuit alleging that his former supervisor sexually harassed him and ridiculed him for his religious beliefs.
Scott Merryman, who worked for the popular IndyCar team from January 2011 to July 2012, filed his lawsuit last week in an Indianapolis federal court, alleging that the team allowed his supervisor Crew Chief Anton Julian to subject him to religious discrimination, battery and sexual harassment.
His lawsuit also includes allegations of battery, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination under Indiana law, the Seattle Times reported.
Merryman’s lawsuit stated that Julian questioned him on why his Facebook page contained “so many” bible verses, taunted him about his sex life and taunted him when he refused to talk about it. Julian also implied that Merryman was a sexual predator when he began dating a woman from his church, according to court documents.
The lawsuit also revealed that in one incident while Merryman was working on an engine, Julian approached him from behind and touched the back of his head with his penis, the Indy Star reported. He claims this incident occurred in front of five of his teammates and he confronted Julian telling him to “never do anything like that again.”
In another incident, when Julian and Merryman were sharing a hotel room on an out of town trip, Merryman alleges that one night while he was sleeping, “Julian was standing next to his bed naked for no apparent reason and laughing,” the lawsuit stated.
Merryman’s suit also alleges that he was “singled out” on out of town trips because he refused to participate in extracurricular activities such as going to strip clubs with his fellow crewmates.
The suit also states that Merryman went to superiors about the mistreatment, but was told to discuss the issue with his crewmat, but he was later fired because of the “chemistry” between he and Julian.
Merryman is seeking compensation for back pay, “front pay in lieu of reinstatement” and punitive damages.
According to the Seattle Times, the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Team declined to comment on suit, stating they can’t discuss pending litigation.
Sexual harassment of men is not as uncommon as people would believe. People sometimes have the mistaken notion that this inappropriate behavior is only a problem that women encounter, but that isn’t the case. This type of harassment whether the object is male or female goes largely under reported.
According to statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, approximately 16.3 percent of total 11,634 sexual harassment complaints from 2011 were filed by men. Even though it is a small share of the overall total number of complaints, it still a prevalent problem and has been steadily increasing. EEOC statistics show that sexual harassment reporting by men has steadily increased since 1997.
It’s likely that many more men are being sexually harassed than people believe; they are just afraid to complain because they don’t think anyone will believe them or take the allegations seriously.
Written by: Daun Lee
New York, NY- Former Disney star Amanda Bynes left Hollywood for the Big Apple to get her act together, but the chaos followed her and she is in legal trouble yet again. The unhinged starlet is accusing the NYPD of sexually harassing her during an altercation last week, an allegation they vehemently deny.
The incident happened last Thursday, May 23rd when an employee for the apartment building where Bynes has been living called police because they witnessed her rolling a joint and smoking marijuana in the lobby. After police arrived, Bynes invited them into her apartment which they say smelled of marijuana, they also found a bong and other marijuana paraphernalia.
A spokesperson for the NYPD, told TMZ that Bynes allegedly threw the bong out the window in front of the officers and then “did not resist arrest.” The troubled star reportedly argued that it was “just a vase.”
Bynes, who has a previous DUI, was arrested for marijuana possession, reckless endangerment and tampering with physical evidence, CNN reported. Bynes, who appeared in court wearing a scraggly blonde wig, was released in bond, but she wasted no time retelling her side of the story online.
And as is typical of the out-of-control child star, Bynes took to Twitter to rant about the incident, claiming reports were all “lies.”
“I was sexually harassed by one of the cops the night before last which is who then arrested me. He lied and said I threw a bong out the window when I opened the window for fresh air. Hilarious. He slapped my vagina. Sexual harassment. Big deal. I then called the cops on him. He handcuffed me, which I resisted, quite unlike any of the reports stated,” Bynes wrote.
Bynes then threatened to sue the NYPD for sexual harassment. New York police Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told CNN when asked about the allegations, “As it would with any such allegation, regardless of its credibility or lack thereof, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau is investigating it.”
NYPS Commissioner Paul J. Browne told TMZ Tuesday, “Investigators have found no evidence to corroborate Ms. Bynes’s allegations.”
Browne added, “To the contrary, a credible civilian witness who was with the officers throughout told investigators that none touched Ms. Bynes inappropriately or otherwise engaged in misconduct at any time.”
Unfortunately, some people whether it is out of anger, spite or greed make false allegations of sexual harassment against others. These vindictive individuals make it more difficult for those, men and women alike, who have legitimate claims to come forward about inappropriate behavior.
Surveys have shown that when people are asked why they are reluctant to report inappropriate touching, comments or jokes in the workplace, they often say that they don’t believe their superiors will take their allegations seriously. A far smaller number of people report sexual harassment than are actually harassed, a recent survey found that 75 percent of women who are harassed on the job refuse to report it because they fear they will lose their jobs or won’t be believed. When Bynes said she was falsely sexually harassed, she delegitimizes the credible claims of the thousands of people who endure this hostile behavior on a daily basis.
Someone needs to get help for Amanda Bynes before she totally goes off the rails.
Written by: Daun Lee
Des Moines, IA- A former GOP Senate staffer said she and other women on Iowa’s Capitol Hill were subjected to sexual harassment and other hostilities at the hands of Republican senators and their staffers.
Kristen Anderson, who worked as GOP communications director for five years, told local station WHOTV that the environment in the capital was “toxic” and that female staffers were “objectified” and “ridiculed” in the workplace. She also said that “toxic” environment persisted before the current legislative session.
Anderson said senators and staffers used “sexist language” and made comments about her body and her clothes, WHOTV reported. She also said she was subject to “improper jokes, improper comments and improper internet content,” and had complained about the work environment last November.
In the interview with WHOTV, Anderson said she approached her supervisors on Friday, May 17th and notified them of the inappropriate behavior. She also said she provided them with documentation, but by the day’s end Anderson was fired.
According to Ed Failor, Assistant to Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, Anderson was fired because of her performance. “She was terminated for cause, which has to do with her work product, which had been brought to her attention months ago. And it didn’t improve,” Failor said.
Anderson said she was notified of her lackluster performance in January, but it had not been mentioned since that time nor has she had any performance meetings. She was not given a reason for her dismal last Friday.
“I’ve been there five years. You know what’s right is right. You get to a point in your life when it is time to say something,” Anderson said. She declined to name any senators or staffers that had acted inappropriately.
Failor also said, “Sexual harassment has not and will not be tolerated under the leadership of Bill Dix.”
On Monday, Anderson told the Associated Press that she had retained an attorney and planned to file a formal sexual harassment and retaliation complaint against the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus.
Though the caucus denies that they fired Anderson for reporting the harassment, they should be concerned about the optics. It is possible that their actions on Friday could appear to be retaliation since Anderson was fired the very day she came forward with a formal sexual harassment complaint.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad urged the Senate to investigate the sexual harassment allegations immediately and determine if they “are true or not,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
According to Iowa Senate rules, individuals who are sexually harassed must report the incident to their direct supervisor first and if the issue is not resolved then the victim must write out a formal complaint.
The only female member of the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus, Sen. Joni Ernst said she has never experienced any sexually inappropriate behavior in the Senate.
It remains to be seen if Anderson’s allegations are true, but it’s not uncommon for state legislators, Republican or Democrat, to engage in sexually inappropriate behavior. A good example is the case of New York Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was recently subjected to an extensive and long investigation after he sexually harassed numerous female staffers.
Written by: Daun Lee
Fort Campbell, KY- Sexual harassment and assault scandals involving the military are mounting. For the third time in the span of less than two weeks, another military official in charge of sexual harassment prevention and reporting for a base has been arrested this time the officer is accused of stalking his ex-wife and violating an order of protection.
Army lieutenant colonel Darin Haas, who was in charge of Fort Campbell’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention/Equal Opportunity office, has since been removed from his post and is under investigation by civilian police.
According to MSNBC, Haas was arrested late Wednesday after violating an order of protection and attempting to contact his estranged wife several times.
“From our understanding, Lt. Col. Haas is in a conflict with his ex-wife based on a contentious divorce, and both have mutual orders of protection against each other. The ongoing investigation is to determine whether or not he violated the actual provisions of the Order of Protection that applies to him,” a spokesperson from Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office said in the statement.
Earlier this week, a sexual assault prevention officer from Fort Hood, Texas was charged with pandering, sexual assault and mistreatment of subordinates. And last week a sexual assault prevention officer for the Air Force was arrested for assaulting a woman in the parking lot of bar.
Sandwiched in between those incidents was a report from the Pentagon which showed that 26,000 members of the military anonymously complained they were sexually harassed or assaulted in 2012.
The news of Haas’s arrest came just hours after President Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and leaders from the Pentagon to discuss the ongoing “crisis” and figure out ways to combat harassment and assault in the military.
President Obama said at the meeting, “They care about this, and they’re angry about it, and I heard directly from all of them that they’re ashamed by some of what’s happened. They understand this is a priority and we will not stop until we see this scourge from what is the greatest military in the world eliminated.”
Defense Secretary Hagel has ordered the military to retrain and rescreen all assault and harassment prevention and response officials in the wake of these controversial incidents, but some question if this is enough.
But former military members and lawmakers believe that the armed services will need to make systemic changes to end this serious problem plaguing the military.
To Kristen Gillibrand, a Senator from New York believes that one way to curtail this behavior in is to take prosecutions for sexual assault, harassment and rape out of the hands of the military and give that power to civilian courts. She introduced legislation this week that would do just that and also prevent military commanders from handling the cases of their subordinates.
“The issue of sexual violence is not new. It has been allowed to go in the shadows for far too long,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said yesterday in a press conference. “Enough is enough. It’s time to change this system that has been held over since George Washington that is simply not working today for the men and women who are serving.”