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Case of the Month: June 2010

Chisholm Dental Service and Dr. Steve Enich to pay $45,000 to settle charge of sexual harassment by former dental assistant

CASE #53665 Closed 6-7-10
Case #53666 Closed 6-7-10

Charging Party

Alisha Tomassini
Chisholm, MN

Respondent

Chisholm Dental Service
217 1st St. N.W.
Chisholm, MN 55719

Dr. Steve Enich c/o Chisholm Dental Service

The following information is a summary of the department's findings and contains excerpts from other public documents relevant to this case.

Factual Basis of the Allegations — What the Charging Party Alleged

Throughout her employment as a dental assistant for Chisholm Dental Service and its co-owner, Dr. Steve Enich, the charging party was sexually harassed by Dr. Enich on a number of occasions, despite making it clear that his behavior was unwelcome.

Among the incidents:

  • In May 2008, Dr. Enich told her to turn around because she had something on her buttocks. As she walked by him, he tried to brush her buttocks. When she asked a coworker if she had anything on her buttocks, the coworker said she did not.
  • In July 2008, while developing an x-ray, she noticed a piece of paper Dr. Enich had taped to the lid of the developer. When she opened the door, she saw a magazine cutout of a woman's mouth with her tongue sticking out. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," Dr. Enich had written. When she asked him what he meant by that statement, he said, "You know."
  • In January 2009, Dr. Enich told her he had just gotten off the phone with a friend, who had asked if she was working. When she asked Dr. Enich why his friend would want to know, Dr. Enich said, "Because he wants to fu*k you." She told Dr. Enich not to talk to her like that.
  • On February 2, 2009, a group of boys came to the office from a facility that houses young men until they're old enough to go to jail. When they arrived, Dr. Enich asked her, "You want to try out the handcuffs later?" She told him to stop talking to her like that because it was sexual harassment; he just giggled.
  • On March 16, 2009, Dr. Enich showed her a female breast he had made out of impression material, and told her he wanted to practice plastic surgery.
  • On March 25, 2009, Dr. Enich made yet another sexual comment, telling her, "I'm ready to do it if you are." She terminated her employment that day, considering her resignation to be a constructive discharge — that she had been, in effect, compelled to quit.

On April 24, 2009, she filed charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging discrimination in employment because of sex against Chisholm Dental Service, and "Aiding and Abetting" discrimination against Dr. Steve Enich, c/o Chisholm Dental Service.

Summary of the Commissioner's Memorandum — What the Department's Investigation Found

In answering the charge against the clinic, the respondent contended that it had first learned of the charging party's complaint of sexual harassment only after she had filed two charges of discrimination and filed for unemployment. The real reason she had resigned, the respondent contended, was that she was unhappy with her job duties, which included answering the phones and reception work. The respondent denied that Dr. Enich, one of the clinic's two owners and the charging party's direct supervisor, had sexually harassed her.

In responding to the charging party's specific allegations, the respondent's account of the events differed from those of the charging party. For example: The respondent stated that Dr. Enich had never touched or tried to touch the charging party's buttocks, but had advised her that there was a string or something on her pants. The respondent also stated that Dr. Enich had never made the alleged statement regarding his friend's desire to have sex with the charging party, and had only relayed a message of "hi" from that individual. The respondent acknowledged that Dr. Enich had made the "I'm ready to do it if you are" statement, but denied that the statement denoted anything sexual.

In its investigation, the department found that the greater weight of evidence supported the charging party's claims of sexual harassment, and contradicted the respondent's contentions. Witness statements supported the charging party's contention that she had been upset by her supervisor's behavior, and that she had protested when he made suggestive comments. As to the respondent's assertion that the charging party had quit because she was unhappy performing receptionist duties, the department found no evidence that she had been reluctant or refused to perform those duties when necessary. "There was corroboration that the charging party quit her employment, not because of the demands of her dental assistant position, but because of constant harassment by the supervisor," the department's investigation found.

The department found probable cause to believe that the Chisholm Dental Service had subjected the charging party to a constructive discharge, in violation of the Human Rights Act. A constructive discharge can be found where intolerable working conditions as a result of discrimination would have compelled a reasonable person in the same situation to resign. The department found probable cause to believe to support her charge of aiding and abetting discrimination against Dr. Steve Enich.

Terms of Settlement

In a negotiated settlement, Chisholm Dental Service and Dr. Steve Enich agreed:

  • To pay $45,000 to the charging party and her attorney;
  • To develop and adopt a written policy addressing its obligations under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, or to review and revise existing policies to ensure compliance with the Act;
  • To provide one hour of training on the fair employment provisions of the Act, including provisions related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment, for all Minnesota managers, supervisors, and human resources personnel.

The Department of Human Rights publishes information about selected cases and settlement agreements, including its "Case of the Month," as part of its mandate under the Human Rights Act to "educate to eliminate" discrimination. Settlement agreements do 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 respondents.