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Case of the Month: October 2009

Department of Human Rights finds probable cause that female kitchen manager sexually harassed male bartender at Wheaton, MN American Legion

Case 50337, closed 9-22-09

Charging Party

Billy Lambert
Wheaton, MN

Respondent

Wheaton American Legion
P.O. Box 835
Wheaton, MN 56296

When he refused her advances, she retaliated by continually and constantly harassing him, the department's investigation found

What the Charging Party Alleged

While employed at the Wheaton American Legion, Billy Lambert was sexually harassed by the Legion’s kitchen manager, Cindy Iverson, on numerous occasions. One day when he was washing glasses in the bar area, she grabbed his testicles and attempted to kiss him. She told him that she intended to have sex with him. When he refused her advances, she retaliated by continually and constantly harassing him, failing to pay him overtime, and accusing him of not performing his duties in a timely manner.

As a result of the harassment, Lambert developed ulcers and experienced nightmares, insomnia, and depression.

He complained about the harassment to the general manager of the Legion, Tony Theil, and reported it to the Legion’s chairmen, Rudy Rodriguez and Al White. But the harassment was never investigated, nor was Iverson disciplined for her behavior.

In September 2007, Lambert filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was transferred to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Lambert alleged that he was sexually harassed, and that his employer had engaged in reprisal after he complained about the harassment.

What the Department’s Investigation Found

In answering the charge, the employer denied that Lambert was subjected to sexual harassment or reprisal. The Legion had moved to a bigger facility and increased its staff two years earlier, and since that time it had been having issues with personality conflicts, back stabbing, and unwarranted accusations among its employees, the employer explained. The Legion had never investigated Lambert's accusations of sexual harassment, because it had never received a formal complaint; it only learned of the harassment when Lambert brought it up at a meeting called for a different purpose, three months after the alleged incident occurred, the employer stated. At the same meeting, Lambert turned in his one week notice and announced that he was starting another job the next Monday; thus the employer saw no need to investigate the matter at the time, since Lambert had already resigned. In his complaint, Lambert had “over exaggerated” the incident due to unresolved personality conflicts with the kitchen manager, the employer claimed.

In its investigation, the department found sufficient evidence to support Lambert’s charge that he had been subjected to sexual harassment by the kitchen manager. A female co-worker indicated that she saw two different incidents of harassment. During the first incident, the kitchen manager grabbed Lambert’s groin area, grabbed his head, and tried to kiss him; when he told her to stop, she continued to harass him by making sexual comments, the witness stated. In the second incident, the kitchen manager grabbed Lambert’s buttocks, according to the witness.

Although the employer denied that Lambert had officially complained, the department found sufficient evidence that he complained to both the bar manager and a committee chairman. The department’s investigation also found that the employer had no sexual harassment policies, that it had failed to take prompt and reasonable action when Lambert complained, and that Lambert had been subject to an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment. As result of this environment, he had been "constructively discharged." (A constructive discharge is said to occur when a work situation becomes so intolerable that any reasonable employee would be compelled to quit in like circumstances.)

"The evidence supports the charging party’s claim of sexual touching, language and actions performed by the kitchen manager, the respondent’s agent, directed at him," the department said, in finding probable cause that Lambert had been subjected to sexual harassment in violation of the Human Rights Act. "Witnesses confirm that the charging party found this conduct to be unwelcome, causing an offensive and hostile work environment. The sexual conduct to which the charging party was subjected was sufficiently severe and pervasive to reach the level of sexual harassment."

The department’s investigation did not find that Lambert had been subjected to any adverse action as a result of complaining about the kitchen manager's harassment. Thus, the department did not find sufficient evidence to support Lambert’s claim that he had been subjected to reprisal.

In a settlement negotiated with the Department of Human Rights, the Wheaton American Legion agreed to pay Billy Lambert $10,000. It also agreed to reexamine its policies and procedures with respect to sexual harassment, to revise those policies as necessary, and to provide at least two hours of training for its managers, supervisors and human resource personnel regarding employer obligations under the Human Rights Act, including information on sexual harassment.

This settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of any liability, an admission of a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act or any other law, or an admission of wrongdoing by the respondent.

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