One of the most difficult workplace bullying scenarios occurs when the employer is the bully.
There may be no one to complain to except the harasser.
This scenario occurred to three former employees of a Baltimore medical practice who were subjected to sexual harassment by two of the company’s highest ranking officials. They complained to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC ), which announced Tuesday that a federal jury had awarded the women $350,000 in damages.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of the women against Endoscopic Microsurgery, alleging that Associate’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Mark D. Noar, M.D., and its Chief Financial Officer Martin Virga subjected the women to frequent unwanted sexual comments, physically touching and grabbing a female worker’s rear end, kissing and blowing on female employees’ necks and other sexually egregious comments and touching.
According to the EEOC, after Linda Luz, a receptionist, rejected their advances, the medical practice began retaliating against her by issuing unwarranted discipline, rescinding approved leave, and eventually firing her.
Administrator Jacqueline Huskins also experienced unwanted sexual advances from Noar and Virga, as did nurse Kimberly Hutchinson from Noar.
The Baltimore jury of nine returned a unanimous verdict for the plaintiffs and awarded each woman punitive damages of $110,000. The jury also held the claimants were entitled to compensatory damages in amounts ranging from $4,000 to $10,000.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It says something about this employer that it failed to negotiate a settlement in this case when it had the opportunity to do so. The EEOC filed suit after attempting unsuccessfully to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Publicity from this fiasco is not likely to encourage new patients to flock to the clinic, nor is it likely to encourage confidence in these medical professionals from existing patients. Duh.
“This verdict is significant because it reminds high-level officials who function as the employer that their high level does not give them license to abuse women – they must treat employees as professionals,” said Debra Lawrence, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office.