A former employee of Stamford’s Cross Insurance has sued the company and its corporate offices in Maine, claiming she had to have sex with her supervisor to keep her job.
According to the graphic lawsuit, which was e-filed Saturday in federal court in Connecticut, Mary Elizabeth Montague claims she was repeatedly sexually harassed by her supervisor and branch manager, Ward Bennett.
The lawsuit claims sex was a condition of Montague’s employment. Montague worked for the insurance company for four years as a receptionist until she was fired in January 2017.
“Submission to Bennett’s unwelcomed sexual advances was implicitly a term of condition of plaintiff’s ongoing employment with the defendants,” the lawsuit says.
The three-count complaint alleges hostile or quid pro quo sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It claims the alleged sexual harassment was ongoing, “severe” and “pervasive.”
The detailed complaint also alleges that on multiple occasions, Bennett followed the plaintiff out of the office and into the stairwell, where he groped her. Montague repeatedly told Bennett to stop sexually harassing her, but to no avail.
The lawsuit says the pair did have sex, but did not elaborate on the nature or duration of their encounters.
The lawsuit claims that during the last months of Montague’s employment, Bennett “wanted to have plaintiff stay late or arrive early to work so that he could attempt to engage in sexual activity with the plaintiff.”
About one week before her termination, the lawsuit states, Bennett went to Montague’s desk and said: “I can make you feel real good right now.” In response, the lawsuit says, Montague said she told her boss she felt fine and to leave her alone. After Montague told Bennett to leave her alone, the lawsuit alleges, Bennett attempted to grab her arm and take her into a conference room. Montague told Bennett to let go of her arm and left the office, according to the lawsuit.
Days after the incident in the office, Montague was fired and Bennett had input in that firing, the lawsuit says.
“Bennett was involved in the decision-making process to terminate plaintiff’s employment,” the suit states.
Bennett, who no longer works for Cross Insurance, did not respond to a call at his Stamford home by press time. Cross Insurance referred all comments to its parent company, Insurance Exchange of Maine Inc. That company’s general counsel, Matt Cobb, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Monday that he’d look into the matter. He did not respond to a request for comment by press time. As of Monday morning, the defendants did not have an attorney on the case.
Montague’s attorney, James Sabatini of Newington-based Sabatini & Associates, did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory damages, front pay and punitive damages.
In September 2017, about eight months after she was fired, Montague filed a complaint against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which granted her a right-to-sue letter in November 2018.