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Monday, February 15, 2010

Alabama Jury Awards $2.7 Million in Sexual-Harassment Case

A Georgia-based security company had multiple opportunities to address widespread complaints of sexual harassment against a district manager. But U.S. Security Associates Inc. apparently did not take the complaints seriously, and a federal jury in Birmingham found that the company should pay--to the tune of $2.7 million in damages.

Jamie Marks, of Leeds, Alabama, said Chris Hargrove repeatedly propositioned her for sex or inappropriately touched her. On one occasion, Hargrove masturbated in front of her. Marks' complaints, however, fell on deaf ears.

This all hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. I went through roughly five months of age-based harassment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). When I finally told my supervisor that I was tired of it, and I'd had enough--and then officially complained to her superior and to human resources--I was soon placed on administrative leave and then fired.

How clueless can management be these days? The answer, based on the Jamie Marks case and my own experience, is "very."

Consider my experience at UAB, which I've written about extensively. I had known my supervisor, Pam Powell, for pretty much the entire 19 years I was at UAB and worked successfully under her for 12 years. But in the early to middle part of 2007, Powell informed our staff that she planned to recommend a coworker with about 20 years less experience than me as her replacement when she retired in two or three years. (The young coworker also had about 20 years less experience than one of my female colleagues.)

I didn't complain because I figured UAB would hire an external candidate when the time came anyway. But with me being 51 years old and in a protected class due to my age, I was a potential legal impediment to Powell's plans. I had never received anything but positive performance reviews from Powell, but suddenly I could do almost nothing right in her eyes.

When I turned in a vacation-request form, it was a problem. My daily timekeeping wasn't up to snuff. Projects I had successfully managed for years became a concern.

Powell finally violated UAB policy by giving me a written warning, and that's when figured I had to do something. I asked for a meeting with Powell's superior, Dale Turnbough, who clearly had no clue about Powell's plans for the future of our office. I told Turnbough that I wasn't concerned about what might happen down the road, but I was concerned that I was facing harassment and discrimination based on my age right then.

Turnbough assured me she would take care of the problem and even encouraged me to go through the formal HR grievance process. Roughly three weeks later, in about as obvious a case of retaliation as you can imagine, Turnbough handed me my termination letter.

Now consider the Jamie Marks case. Alicia Haynes, Marks' attorney, says 15 other women have been identified as victims of sexual harassment at the company. Another lawsuit is pending in Birmingham federal court with six plaintiffs.

"There was a level of arrogance on the part of the company," Haynes said. "They weren't going to do anything about (Hargrove)."

Instead, the company tried to discredit the women who came forward. Apparently, that strategy failed big time at trial.

A level of arrogance? I would say that's an excellent way to describe the "management" at UAB. Time will tell if the university, funded largely by state and federal taxpayer dollars, will be held accountable in my case and several others that are pending.

The Jamie Marks verdict should give clueless managers something to think about. But who knows if they are smart enough to pay attention?

6 comments:

WDRussell said...

They are also 'persons' now. Besides the fine they should be given a prison sentence. For as long as the sentence is, you padlock their doors and freeze their money.

Anonymous said...

I have to say USSA is well known for trying to discredit thier security personel. If you are not a member of upper management with a college degree then U are as they put it expendable. The way they feel about it is if it's too bad you'll leave... and thats thier attitude i know from experience.

justice4all said...

I was sexually harassed on my job at Kohler Co. in Huntsville, Alabama by a female supervisor. I complained to several supervisors and top management several times about the harassment and vulgar language, but nothing was done. It became a very hostile environment to work in.

I only worked with the female supervisor on overtime shift. I was on B Shift and she was on D shift (the overtime shift) The female supervisor would often call me pet names and touch me unwantedly on my arms, back and shoulders. She called me a Motherf***** in front of my coworkers, tried to deny me overtime, and attempted to send me home while on overtime without probable cause. The company allowed her to make the schedules and I was always forced to work with her.

After several failed attempts in talking to the supervisors/management, I began filing grievances through my local union (GMP Local 214, Huntsville, Alabama). After filing several grievances through the union, she was instructed to stay away from me and have no contact whatsoever.

One night she and two of her female friend's showed up on B shift while I was working and she approached me at my station and told me she could teach me a few things about making love. She also stated to me that her P*ssy was tighter than my wifes because my wife has four kids and she has none. On another occasion she stated that she would like to suck my d*** with her finger up my a**. She stated as well that she would like to suck the skin off my d**k. I reported all of these incidents to supervisors and management. One of the supervisors (JT) stated to me that it was her word against mine, and reminded me that there were cameras in the building that protect her as well as me.

A short time after my supervisor told me this, another incident occurred on overtime. I came in to work D shift and checked the board for the schedule, and was shocked to see that they allowed her to schedule me to work with her again. While working and cooling off under an air vent, I looked up and was stunned to see her coming toward me due to the limited space between the work area. I noticed her coming closer and because I was uncomfortable I tried to move out of her way before she approached me. While moving away from her, she assaulted me by running into me and touching me on my buttock with her hand and rubbing her body up against me. After reporting this incident, one of the supervisors witnessed the account on camera just as I explained it. Still nothing was done to help me. At this point I took matters into my own hands and hired an attorney.

About three months later I had emergency foot surgery under the FMLA. While under doctor care, I was terminated for job abandonment. I then filed a retaliation charge through EEOC in Birmingham Alabama and was given the right to sue on both charges (sexual harassment and retaliation).

Kohler allowed the female supervisor to resign and obtain a position with the U.S. Government, while I was fired. lost my benefits (medical and dental), lost my pay and my credit was destroyed.

My suit is currently in Federal Court at the Hugo L. Black Courthouse in Birmingham Alabama and the presiding Judge is Lynwood Smith. I have done nothing wrong and Kohler should be held accountable for their actions.

legalschnauzer said...

Justice:

Thanks for sharing your story, and I am sorry for what you have been through. Feel free to keep me posted on the progress of your case.

Anonymous said...

I am a current employee of Kohler and would like to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation on my job. I read this article and thought of so many other situations that have occurred out here. This man stood up and filed a complaint with OSHA against Kohler. The company was infected with rats and roaches and he filed a complaint and successfully had the rats and roaches removed. After he complained, the company took out all the coolers for storing our food and we had to store our lunches on the floor around the rats and roaches.

He was always helpful to everyone and believed in being fair. I remember in a safety meeting he spoke up about employees not knowing where to go for fire drills and tornado drills. This upset management so bad that during the next safety meeting he was banned from the meeting. He wasn't afraid to speak up and management did not like that. Several of us employees wrote top management in Kohler, Wisconsin about the problems here at Kohler in Huntsville and the way management is treating the employees here, but it has fell on deaf ears for years. Even when the Kohler family comes down from Wisconsin for a plant visit, the employees are never acknowledged. They could care less how the employees feel and they show this by laying off employees right before Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I do know that he complained continuously about this female supervisor harassing him and talking to him vulgar and he was joked daily about his manhood. When the presses would go down on our overtime shift, they would put him back on her row after he filed complaints against her. He ended up having to file a grievance against management because of this. Other employees would often laugh and tell him "go on and get with her and she might leave you alone". He became the plant joke.

There used to be information posted about sexual harassment laws on the wall by the breakroom, but after this guy filed the complaint about sexual harassment on him, the company took the information that was posted down.

I would like to thank our GMP Local 214 Union because if it werent for them, this man probably would never have been able to voice his concerns. I am only one man, but there needs to be a change here. Is sexual harassment the same for a man as it is a woman? If so, this man definitely deserves justice.

Anonymous said...

This company has a history of lawsuits filed against it for sexual harassment. Many were thrown out of court.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has found against this company several times for sexual harassment and retalitory practices.The EEOC averages about $175,000.when they win the case. That means nothing to this billionaire family owned business.

One of the at least 83 government contracts this company won for 2009-2010, wipes out that little slap on the wrist.It takes at least a few million to get some attention from this company. I hope this employee gets the dollars he deserves.