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A former court reporter’s sexual harassment complaint against Connecticut’s Judicial Branch can proceed, despite branch officials’ argument that the alleged harassment wasn’t severe enough to create a hostile work environment. Partially denying the Judicial Branch’s motion for summary judgment Mar. 28, U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas found the issue of whether court officials took plaintiff Frances Ayers’ complaint seriously enough is a matter for a jury to decide. Ayers claims she was repeatedly harassed by Stanley Kubovy, a Judicial Branch maintenance worker, beginning in 1994. In 1997, Kubovy physically assaulted her, Ayers contends, by slapping her buttocks in the presence of her young son. Four days later, Ayers reported the matter to her superiors in Stamford Superior Court, she claims. Court officials, however, didn’t respond to her allegations, prompting Ayers to file a grievance against the Judicial Branch for failing to properly investigate her claim, her suit alleges. After notifying her that Kubovy would not be disciplined, local branch administrators subjected her to such severe retaliation, Ayers asserts, that she was forced to leave the job. ONCE IS ENOUGH Judicial Branch spokeswoman Rhonda J. Stearley-Hebert declined to comment on the allegations because the case is still pending. But in seeking to have Ayers’ Title VII claim tossed out on summary judgment, the defense argued that the allegations, if taken as fact, aren’t extreme enough to create a hostile work environment. Nevas disagreed. “Viewing this evidence in its totality and in a light most favorable to Ayers, the court cannot conclude as a matter of law that Kubovy’s conduct was not so severe and persuasive as to alter the terms and conditions of Ayers’s employment for the worse,” he wrote. “Indeed, one incident of assault alone could be sufficient to support a finding of a hostile work environment.” Though it doesn’t dispute Ayers’ chronology of the events surrounding the filing of her complaint, the Judicial Branch also contended that its response was “sufficiently and effectively remedial and prompt to shield it from liability” in the matter, according to Nevas’ decision. Again, the judge took a different view. “While a fact-finder may conclude that the Judicial Branch’s response was reasonable and adequate, the record evidence does not compel only that conclusion and thus summary judgment is not appropriate,” he reasoned. Nevas also disagreed with the Judicial Branch’s argument that Ayers’ claims are barred by Title VII’s time limitations because the alleged conduct took place more than 300 days prior to Jan. 8, 1998, the date she filed her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “There is no merit to [the defendant's] assertion that the continuing violation theory is not available to Ayers because it only ‘applies to cases involving specific discriminatory policies or mechanisms such as discriminatory seniority lists’,” the judge ruled. Nevas did grant the Judicial Branch’s summary judgment motion regarding Ayers’ claims under 42 U.S.C. � 1983 and the Connecticut Unfair Employment Practices Act for lack of jurisdiction. Ayers’ attorney John R. Williams, of New Haven’s Williams & Pattis, could not be reached by press time.

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