Recently in Hostile Work Environment Category

August 8, 2014

Seventh Circuit Overturns Lower Court Ruling on Indiana Title VII Prison Case

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that a lower court erroneously ruled against an Indiana prison employee who had brought Title VII discrimination claims against her employer.

prison-1431136-m.jpgThe details of Orton-Bell v. Indiana seem like they belong in a movie or television show. Connie Orton-Bell worked as a substance abuse counselor in Pendleton Correctional Facility, one of Indiana's maximum security prisons, from 2007 until April 2010. During her time in the position, she claimed that numerous sexually inappropriate behaviors took place in her work environment. For instance, an investigation into security breaches uncovered that night shift employees were having sex on Orton-Bell's desk. The investigator's only reaction was that Orton-Bell should wipe her desk off every morning.

Orton-Bell also claimed to be the personal recipient of many sexual remarks by her superior, Superintendent Brett Mize. Mize allegedly instructed Orton-Bell to never wear jeans to work because "her ass looked so good, she would cause a riot." Such comments were allegedly common from Mize, who was eventually terminated for reasons unknown prior to the events that led to the lawsuit. However, Ortin-Bell claimed that these comments were common among all of the male employees, and that female employees were "bombarded."

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February 14, 2014

Sixth Circuit Finds Involuntary Transfer to Be an Adverse Employment Action in Deleon v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission

Not long ago, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals determined in Deleon v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission that a job transfer could be considered an adverse employment action, even if it was to a position that the employee initially wanted.

industrial-park-1372192-m.jpgThe case involved a 53-year old man of Mexican descent, Robert Deleon, who had worked for the Kalamazoo County Road Commission for 28 years. In 1995, Deleon served as an Area Superintendent who supervised road maintenance activities, road crews, and road repairs. Although he received positive reviews for his work, Deleon also claimed to have experienced a pervasive atmosphere of racial insensitivity and hostility.

In 2008, a vacancy opened up for the Equipment and Facilities Superintendent position. The description stated that the work took place primarily in an office and in a garage where there would be exposure to loud noises and diesel fumes. Deleon applied for the position, viewing it as a good opportunity to advance in his career. Had he been offered the position, Deleon claimed that he would have requested a $10,000 increase in salary.

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October 2, 2013

Sixth Circuit Finds That Employer Who Terminated Employee Due to Her Romantic Relationship Is Not Liable in Stevens v. Saint Elizabeth Medical Center, Inc.

In the recent case Stevens v. Saint Elizabeth Medical Center, Inc., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that terminating an employee after discovering a consensual, but inappropriate, workplace relationship that has soured is not grounds for wrongful termination or hostile work environment.

gavel-4-1409594-m.jpgThe case involved a nurse, Caroline Stevens, who worked for Physician Associates, LLC and Patient First Physicians Group, the latter of which was later acquired by Saint Elizabeth Medical Center. Stevens served as a nurse and personal assistant for Dr. Donald Saelinger, the Chief Executive Officer for Patient First Physicians Group. During many of the years they worked together, Stevens and Saelinger had a romantic relationship, until Stevens broke it off in 2009 when she learned that Saelinger had not divorced his wife.

Stevens later filed a complaint that her site supervisor, Gary Brown, was pressuring her to take a new position after Saelinger expressed a desire to reduce his patient load. She noted that no patients had been transferred to other doctors. Brown was aware that Stevens and Saelinger used to be in a relationship. Investigation into the complaint revealed that Stevens and Saelinger not only had an affair, but that they also had several sexual episodes on office grounds. As a result, their employer gave them both the option of resigning or being terminated. Saelinger resigned, while Stevens was terminated. Stevens then filed a lawsuit against Saelinger, Physician Associates, Patient First Physicians Group, and Saint Elizabeth Medical Center, alleging sexual harassment under Title VII, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, wrongful termination (retaliation) and fraud. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and the district court ruled in their favor. Stevens then appealed to a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit to review the case.

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February 12, 2013

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Everyone knows that sexual harassment is wrong and that it can lead to serious consequences if it occurs in the workplace. Some types of sexual harassment are very obvious, forcing oneself on another person, firing someone for refusing to have a sexual relationship, making continuous lewd comments or sexual requests. But some aspects of sexual harassment are a little less clear.

Touching someone else while at work can also be obvious sexual harassment, depending on where on the body the person is touched. As children, we are taught that places covered by our swimsuits should not be touched by others because they are private. This rule also applies to the workplace. But touching in other places can be considered sexual in nature as well.

Take for example the recent case in Oregon where a police captain touched several women on the upper leg. His chief stated the touching was not sexual in nature because the offender did not mean it to be, but several others begged to differ. A slap on the leg from one guy to another probably would not be considered sexual, but that is not what happened here. The captain touched several female subordinates on the upper thigh, and those who were touched said he either rubbed their leg or allowed his hand to linger.

First, it is not up to the person who is doing the touching to determine whether it was sexual or not. The person being touched is the one who determines if it made them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Second, because the person doing the touching was their supervising officer, the women probably felt more intimidated and unwilling to say anything about the behavior. Third, the upper thigh is a questionable area, unlike a shoulder or arm.

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December 6, 2012

Supreme Court to Rule on Case Regarding Definition of "Supervisor"

On November 26, 2012 the Supreme Court heard the case of Vance v Ball State, an Indiana workplace discrimination lawsuit. Their ruling on the case will likely affect not only plaintiff and defendants in the case, but also other current and future workplace harassment lawsuits.

Here is a little background on the case. Ms. Vance started at Ball State University in Indiana in the banquet and catering department in 1989. During her numerous years of employment, she was usually the only African-American employee. One of her supervisors did not seem to care for her. She allegedly threatened her physically, and at one point the plaintiff heard that the supervisor referred to her in a derogatory manner because of her race. She reported the behavior, but the only outcome was both women were required to undergo counseling. The worker contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the university. The lower court that heard the case threw it out because they did not think the alleged harasser was an actual supervisor of the plaintiff. She then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So the matter before the Supreme Court is deciding what constitutes a "supervisor." The federal appeals courts seem divided on the issue, with some using a broader definition than others. The court that heard the case above took a very narrow approach to the meaning of the word. They ruled that because the alleged harasser did not have the power to hire or fire employees, she was not a supervisor. The EEOC and some other federal courts define a supervisor as someone who "has the authority to recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee or if the individual has the authority to direct the employee's daily work activities." The plaintiff in this case felt the harasser was her supervisor because she was not required to fill out time sheets like the rest of the employees.

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November 12, 2012

Electronic Workplace Harassment Does Not Always Happen at the Workplace

Online social media and mobile communication are very prevalent in today's society and are being used in all sorts of ways. They can be used to invite friends to a party, notify faraway relatives that a new baby has arrived, find long-lost friends from high school, and share decorating ideas and silly videos with people around the globe. Even charity efforts have gone mobile as phone apps have been created as a convenient way for people to help donate to those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, it can also be used in negative ways as well, such as harassment.

Supervisors and co-workers often find each other on social networks or share cell phone numbers to allow for easier communication. Sometimes it is easier to send a text regarding a work matter than it is to have an actual phone conversation. But these technologies can also be used in an abusive manner and result in workplace harassment or sexual harassment even when an employee is not at work.

There are many different ways a worker can be harassed electronically. If a supervisor repeatedly sends texts messages to an employee asking for a date or an intimate relationship, the employee may feel uncomfortable or threatened. This constitutes sexual harassment and can create a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can also occur when a supervisor or co-worker emails or posts pictures or jokes of a sexual nature that other employees find offensive. In a recent case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against a company because a manager was sending sexual texts to an employee, who told her supervisor. When the supervisor reported the harassment, the company allegedly retaliated against him by firing him. A settlement for $2.3 million was made by the company for both the sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Other types of harassment or workplace discrimination can also occur. If supervisors or co-workers are posting disparaging remarks regarding an employee's disability, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, this may also be discrimination. An employee was recently awarded $1.6 million by a court because co-workers had posted negative comments about his disability and his employer did not take any action when he reported the discrimination.

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September 11, 2012

Possible Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in Louisville, Kentucky Public Works Department

In two separate cases, a former Louisville, Kentucky public works director has been accused of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. The director resigned at the end of August 2012. Although he denies his departure was in connection with any of the allegations, it certainly seems to be the case.

Sexual discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This portion of the act prohibits employers and supervisors from treating employees differently because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Employees cannot be turned down for employment, denied promotions, paid less, terminated, or otherwise treated unfairly because of any of these factors. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces this portion of the act by determining if an employee has a valid claim and contacting the company. If the company refuses to resolve the issue, a lawsuit will most likely be filed.

In the Kentucky sexual discrimination case, a public works employee claimed she was discriminated against because she was female. The lawsuit states she was denied a promotion for 18 months and was only given the job after complaints of potential sexual discrimination were made to the mayor. She was finally awarded the position in June 2012, but allegedly at a lower salary than her male predecessors.

According to the EEOC, "Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Sexual harassment involves actions by a supervisor or co-worker that makes an employee uncomfortable. Unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and the distribution of pictures, cartoons, or jokes of a sexual nature are just a few examples of sexual harassment. A one-time incident involving something of a mildly sexual nature is generally not enough to constitute harassment; it must be either frequent or serious enough to cause a hostile work environment.

In the Kentucky sexual harassment complaint against the public works director, he allegedly entered the employee's cubicle on more than one occasion and hugged and kissed her without her consent. Non-consensual touching like this is quite serious, and the fact that it happened more than once makes it even worse.

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August 2, 2012

Alleged Kentucky Sexual Harassment Incident Included in Police Officer's Lawsuit

An ex-employee of the Hyattsville Police Department in Maryland has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city of Hyattsville. She joined the force in 2005 when she was 21 and stayed until she was allegedly forced to retire in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, the female police officer was frequently the victim of sexual harassment from her supervisors and coworkers while on the job. Perhaps the worst incident allegedly occurred in 2007 in Louisville, Kentucky. The officer was invited by her superior officer to attend a Fraternal Order of Police Conference there. During the conference, the suit claims that the superior officer took her into a men's restroom and forced her to touch his crotch. Then later that night he allegedly came into her hotel room, climbed on top of her and tried to have sex with her. The female officer's roommate allegedly helped to get him off of her. The female officer claims that nothing was done when she reported the incident and that she was even assigned to the offending officer's squad after it happened. The city of Hyattsville disagrees with her claim, stating disciplinary action was taken against the superior officer, but they did not provide any details.

The female officer said the repeated sexual harassment and hostile work environment forced her to go on short-term disability because she suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The suit also claims that she was retaliated against after reporting the harassment and she was eventually forced to retire and relocate in 2009.

Her lawsuit seeks an unknown amount of damages. The damages would cover her lost wages and benefits as a result of supposedly being forced to retire early. They would also compensate her for any mental or emotional distress incurred because of the harassment and retaliation. If a jury would rule in her favor, the police department would likely have to provide training to all personnel regarding avoiding sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to handle sexual harassment complaints when they occur. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) goal is not only to obtain justice for those who have been mistreated, but also to prevent that type of behavior in the future, so training and supervision from an outside party is frequently part of the award or settlement in this type of case.

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July 17, 2012

Kentucky Sexual Harassment Case to Cost City over $250,000

In 2009, an employee at the Fayette County Detention Center in Kentucky alleges that her supervisor sexually harassed her. Her lawsuit stated that he humiliated her in front of her co-workers and an inmate on separate occasions. She also claimed that he touched her breast. When she reported this behavior, she was supposedly a victim of retaliation as well. The lawsuit named the director of the detention center and the city. She was one of three women who filed lawsuits against the detention center alleging sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation.

This Kentucky sexual harassment case went to trial in March 2012. The jury handed down a split decision, which means they agreed with the plaintiff on some points and agreed with the defendants on others. The detention center director was excused from the case by the judge because he did not think the director played a role in the harassment. The jury found that the supervisor had indeed harassed the employee, but did not find any evidence that he actually touched her breast. Jurors also did not think there was enough evidence to prove her supervisor had retaliated against her after she complained about his behavior. They awarded the sexual harassment victim $60,000, most likely to cover any lost wages and to compensate her for any emotional or mental distress the alleged harassment may have caused her. Some of the damages may have been awarded simply to punish the city for allowing this to happen and to persuade city officials not to allow this to happen again at the detention center. Damages of this type are called "punitive damages." The employee that was allegedly harassed says she is thankful that someone listened to her.

As a further blow to the city and its bank account, the judge agreed that the city was responsible for the plaintiff's attorneys' fees that accrued during the preparation and attending of the trial. They totaled just over $200,000. If the city decides to appeal this decision and loses, it will likely be held responsible for those additional attorneys' fees as well.

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June 5, 2012

Company Settles Kentucky Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Known as the sponsor of the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Alltech is an international company based in Nicholasville, Kentucky that produces animal feed, a beef product, coffee and alcoholic beverages. According to a lawsuit against the company that recently settled, it also allegedly produces a hostile work environment for female employees.

A woman who worked for Alltech for about four years filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company in May 2011. She had allegedly been harassed by her boss for the duration of her employment. The harassment ranged from sexual calls and emails to actually being locked in a conference room and inappropriately touched by him. She also claims that other employees were sexually harassed by her boss and others, stating "The culture and leadership at Alltech created an environment which fostered and condoned acts of sexual harassment."

The employee allegedly reported the situation to her boss's supervisor who told her not to worry about it because she was a strong woman and could take care of herself. In April 2011 she went to someone who worked outside the company - an auditor - and reported what had been happening. It was announced shortly thereafter that all emails over a year old would no longer be kept, and Alltech began an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations. Her boss resigned from the company, but was kept on for special projects at the beginning of May 2011.

Then on May 17, the company stated that any employee disputes would be handled through arbitration rather than through the courts. The employee was told this new policy would cover her complaints even though she had complained before the policy was put in place. The employee did not agree with this policy and she left the company and filed a lawsuit on May 20, 2011. Alltech tried to have the lawsuit dismissed based on their new arbitration policy, but the courts said the employee had not agreed to the policy and the case was allowed to proceed. To avoid having depositions taken of their executives and other employees, the company agreed to settle the lawsuit with the Kentucky worker for an undisclosed amount.

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April 27, 2012

Kentucky Bourbon Company Sued for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

1072868_a_double___.jpgMaker's Mark is known across the country for its ability to make bourbon in Kentucky. On April 6, the Kentucky employment law firm of Miller & Falkner filed a lawsuit against Maker's Mark on behalf of five female employees of the distillery. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, alleges that Maker's Mark broke numerous state and federal laws.

The female workers allege in the complaint that their troubles started before and got worse after answering a survey distributed by Maker's Mark. The survey asked employees to tell if they had ever experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or any other type of discrimination at work. The five women answered positively, and they claim they have been treated negatively since then.

Before the survey, the women say they were subjected to a hostile work environment. This situation can occur in a variety of ways, but ultimately it makes the workers feel uncomfortable enough at work that they may consider quitting. In this case the women claim that indecent exposure occurred, inappropriate birthday cards were sent, and sexual encounters were retold while they were trying to work. This type of behavior from co-workers made Maker's Mark and uncomfortable place to work for them.

The lawsuit also alleges that they were victims of sexual harassment. One type of sexual harassment occurs when someone is subjected to unwanted sexual advances or is propositioned. This is the type of harassment that the women encountered at the distillery. Discrimination based on an employee's gender was also noted by the women. They state that they were denied certain positions and were not promoted on certain occasions simply because they were women.

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March 18, 2012

Did Religious Discrimination Lead to Wrongful Termination at NASA?

When one hears the name NASA, rocket ships and space exploration come to mind, not religion. But one man is suing a California division of NASA for alleged religious discrimination. David Coppedge was a computer specialist that worked on a NASA mission exploring Saturn and its moons. Once a team lead on the project, he claims he was demoted and eventually terminated because of his religious beliefs. Mr. Coppedge believes in intelligent design, a theory stating that something must have driven evolution.

NASA claims the 15-year project was winding down at the time of his termination and that 264 other employees were also let go at the same time because of budget cuts. Mr. Coppedge claims that his speaking to his co-workers about intelligent design led to his termination. Two other items that may have contributed was his desire to have the holiday party called a "Christmas party" and his backing of a proposed measure to have marriage only pertain to heterosexual couples.

Religion is one of many types of discrimination that are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs." The unfavorable treatment can be in found in several forms, including refusal to hire an applicant, a negative difference in pay or benefits, being passed over for promotions, or wrongful termination.

Under Title VII, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees' religious beliefs. This may include allowing certain types of dress or appearance required by an individual's religion or not requiring someone to attend functions that go against their beliefs. Unreasonable accommodations are those that would be extremely costly to the employer, would put other employees at risk for harm, or would impede the rights of others.

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March 10, 2012

Paula Deen Sued for Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

Paula Deen continues to be in the news, this time as a defendant in a lawsuit for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. The popular TV show host co-owns a restaurant with her brother, Bubba Hiers, in Savannah. Uncle Bubba's is the name of the restaurant where the alleged harassment took place.

Lisa Jackson, the general manager of Uncle Bubba's for five years, has filed a lawsuit claiming she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment while working at the restaurant. The sexual harassment allegedly occurred in several different ways. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Hiers frequently made sexual advances toward Ms. Jackson, watched pornography in their shared office, and said things that were very offensive. Ms. Jackson's claim also states that when Ms. Deen promoted her to general manager of the restaurant, she said she was "going to do something I've never done. I'm going to put a woman in a man's job."

Sexual harassment can take different forms. Sometimes it is sexual in nature, such as when Mr. Hiers allegedly watched pornography in their office and made sexual advances towards Ms. Jackson. It can also occur when derogatory remarks are made about a person's gender in general, which is what Ms. Deen supposedly did when she said she was going to give a man's job to a woman. Ms. Jackson also claims she was paid less than her male counterparts in the restaurant industry. These types of harassment can make an employee feel uncomfortable in the workplace and result in a hostile work environment. In many cases, if the sexual advances are turned down, or if the employee reports the sexual harassment, the harasser may retaliate by wrongfully terminating an employee. Ms. Jackson is not claiming wrongful termination because she voluntarily left the job based on the advice of a physician who said working at the restaurant was detrimental to her mental well-being.

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January 26, 2012

Wrongful Termination of Firefighter a Result of Gender Discrimination

1018822_firefighters.jpgBrittany McMahon wanted to be a firefighter, so she joined the Carlsbad fire department to complete her year-long probationary period in January, 2010. According to Ms. McMahon, she completed all tasks assigned to her and passed her physical tests, some of which she believes were made even harder for her than her male counterparts.

While living at the station on her work days, she was allegedly subjected to sexual harassment, such as being pulled toward a male firefighter by her belt loops and being offered assistance with showering. Online comments about female toiletries appearing in a unisex bathroom at a fire station added to the hostile work environment, Ms. McMahon claimed.

According to the lawsuit, around the end of her probationary period, Ms. McMahon was told she could either resign voluntarily or be terminated by the department, the latter of which would hurt her chances of finding a position elsewhere. Ms. McMahon felt she had no other choice than to resign. Her wrongful termination lawsuit, which is supposedly asking for about $2 million in damages, states that she was discriminated against because she was a woman trying to get into a fire department that has always been all men.

This case illustrates the different types of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that can occur. The other firefighters commenting about the station bathroom being filled with "tampons...hair accessories" and other female items is gender discrimination in which the complainant's entire gender is being insulted. A sexually charged hostile work environment was created when the male firefighters allegedly made comments about helping her in the shower and grabbed her by her pants. It does not appear that Ms. McMahon was terminated because she turned down the sexual advances of a supervisor or co-worker, which would be considered quid pro quo sexual harassment. Rather, the complaint states she was forced to leave her job simply because she was a woman.

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October 31, 2011

Sexual Harassment in Fitness Clubs

Fitness club employees spend their days looking at and trying to improve human bodies. Clothing made for fitness and to accentuate the body is worn. In this type of workplace, sexual harassment is bound to occur.

Earlier this month, Jonathan Prince, a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Sherman Oaks, California, filed a lawsuit against his female manager. The suit alleges that the manager hit on Mr. Prince by asking him out and sending him suggestive text messages. When Mr. Prince asked her to stop she gave him negative reviews in retaliation, which hurt his chances for receiving a promotion or bonus. Mr. Prince is seeking over $50,000 in damages. This case highlights the fact that the victim of sexual harassment is not always female.

In 2004, the same club, 24 Hour Fitness, was ordered to pay $2.4 million to Cynthia Malek, a former employee who was fired because she complained that male co-workers were sexually harassing her. The company attempted to demote her from a management position to a sales position. Ms. Malek refused to accept the demotion and was fired. According to the arbitrator's comments, several of the criticisms that led to the attempted demotion of Ms. Malek came from the men she claimed had sexually harassed her. Even after damages were awarded to her, Ms. Malek continued to fight to have the ruling made public. She felt that the 24 Hour Fitness company as a whole tolerated sexual harassment and she wanted others to be aware of her situation. A year later, the ruling was publicized.

Not all cases of sexual harassment in fitness clubs are filed by employees that work directly with patrons. In August, 2011, Allstar Fitness settled a sexual harassment and http://www.millerfalknerlaw.com/lawyer-attorney-1400888.html by agreeing to pay $150,000 to a janitorial worker who was allegedly sexually assaulted numerous times by her supervisor. The supervisor told her to keep quiet about it or she would lose her job. When she asked him to stop, he fired her the next day. The claim filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on her behalf claims that the club's upper management never investigated her allegations. The settlement also requires the company to establish a complaint procedure and policies regarding sexual harassment and to provide employee training. Michael Baldonado, District Director of EEOC stated, "No one should be forced to choose between personal dignity and the paycheck that feeds your family."

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