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General News    H3'ed 2/16/10

Federal Jury Awards $2.7 Million in Sexual Harassment Case

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Message Roger Shuler
Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
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?

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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