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Finding that an employer’s encouragement of the sexual harassment of the lone female employee in a metal parts factory was “extreme and outrageous,” a federal judge has awarded the woman more than $75,000 after a non-jury trial. In his 20-page opinion in Hare v. H&R Industries Inc., Senior U.S. District Judge James McGirr Kelly awarded Priscilla Hare $50,000 in punitive damages after finding that the company ignored her complaints about constant harassment from male co-workers. “Not only did her supervisors acquiesce in the harassment, they were directly responsible for much of the harassment,” Kelly wrote. “Furthermore, not only did H&R allow this atmosphere of ongoing and extreme hostile work environment to continue to exist, it actually encouraged it. For example, instead of remedying the situation, Hare’s supervisor told Hare to ‘give back,’” Kelly wrote. Kelly also awarded Hare more than $15,000 in back pay and more than $10,600 in medical expenses resulting from the severe depression she suffered because of the harassment, including two suicide attempts that Kelly found were directly related to Hare’s mistreatment at work. In calculating the punitive damages figure, Kelly found that H&R had gross profits of $700,000 for the year 2000, and that a punitive damages award of $50,000 “is reasonable and should suffice to punish H&R for its abhorrent conduct in this matter and hopefully deter it from future misconduct.” The cost to H&R is sure to swell because Hare’s lawyer, Joanne W. Rathgeber of Rathgeber & Associates in now entitled to petition for an award of attorney fees. According to court papers, Hare worked for H&R Industries from February 1997 to October 1999. Judge Kelly found that while the company had a sexual harassment policy on paper, it did nothing to enforce it and never gave any of its employees or supervisors any training. “There was never a meeting on sexual harassment, and no employee was ever given any kind of instruction on the policies,” Kelly wrote. Kelly also found that Hare was subjected to unwanted advances not only from co-workers on the factory floor, but from high-ranking managers including general manager Mick Jones, who “would put his arm around [Hare] and squeeze her cheeks.” Hare testified at trial that Jones would call her “gorgeous” and that she “felt very uncomfortable the way he talked to me. It was inappropriate touching. I didn’t feel that a general manager had a right to wrap his arm around you.” She also testified that co-worker Kevin Webster “grabbed me a lot . … He brushed up against me tons of times. He would try to get me into the tool room and he would shut the light out and he mentioned how he would bend me over the railing up in the foyer and he told me eventually, we’re going to sleep together. … He would just not leave me alone even after I told him to stop.” Hare testified that she complained to her direct supervisor, Dave Wolfgang, and to at least six other men in the office, but that nothing was done to stop Webster or the other men from harassing her. One male worker, she said, left a note on her desk telling her that she could be sold for several thousand dollars on the Russian market. Another male worker “goosed” and tickled her while she was working, she said, causing her to slip once and nearly slice off her finger in a sheet metal molding machine. That same man, she said, would approach her with his hands open to suggest that he was going to grab her breasts. Yet another male worker, she said, commented that her perfume was giving him an erection and that he couldn’t get any work done. Hare testified that false rumors began swirling around the factory about her having sexual affairs and that supervisors did nothing to stop the rumors from spreading. On the Friday before she was fired, Hare testified that she was confronted in the parking lot by the wife of one of her male co-workers who accused her of having an affair with her husband. Hare admitted that her argument with the woman was loud and obscene and that Hare herself had continued to use vulgar language in the plant. The following Monday, Hare said she was fired and escorted from the building. Hare testified that she attempted suicide twice in the year after her firing. In January 2000, she cut her wrists, and in October 2000, she overdosed on pills. After the second suicide attempt, Hare was admitted to Doylestown hospital where she was treated for two weeks for major depression, alcohol abuse and gastroesophageal reflux disease. In his findings of fact and conclusions of law, Kelly found that H&R “was clearly engaged in intentional discrimination and has done so with malice or with reckless indifference to Hare’s federally protected rights.” Despite Hare’s repeated complaints, Kelly found that “H&R’s only attempt at addressing issues of sexual harassment at the workplace is the insertion of four broad statements in [its] policy manual.” But the policy proved worthless, Kelly found, because “H&R’s supervisors were directly responsible for the creation and continuation of the hostile environment and utterly failed to remedy the situation when Hare complained of being subject to harassment.” Kelly found that Hare’s case was one of the rare workplace discrimination suits in which the plaintiff was able to prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. “H&R’s conduct in this matter was extreme and outrageous,” Kelly wrote. ” … Instead of remedying the situation, she was subject to more harassment and name-calling. H&R eventually fired Hare.” Kelly found that Title VII was violated because “Hare’s workplace was permeated with discrimination, ridicule, and insult that was sufficient to alter the conditions of Hare’s employment.” And since Hare was harassed by both her immediate supervisor and the plant’s general manager, Kelly found, the company was liable not only under a respondeat superior theory, but was also directly responsible. “When the employer knew or should have known of the hostile work environment because the harassment was open and obvious, the employer is directly liable when the employer fails to take remedial action,” Kelly wrote. “Hare complained several times to her supervisor and others and the harassment Hare had to endure was open and obvious.”

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