Utility's General Manager Targeted Office Manager, Federal Agency Charges
GLASGOW, Mont. - A utility serving Northeast Montana, NorVal Electric Cooperative, Inc., violated federal law when its general manager sexually harassed a female employee and then retaliated against her when she objected to his conduct and sought to report it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, from May to October 2017, NorVal's office manager faced unwelcome sexual comments and physical touching from her direct supervisor, NorVal's general manager. The conduct escalated during a business trip when he suggested that they meet in his hotel room, which she adamantly refused. When she sought to report his conduct, he made escalating threats against her job. After NorVal blocked her from making an internal complaint to anyone other than her harasser, she filed a formal charge with the Montana Human Rights Bureau and the EEOC. In response, NorVal took steps to terminate her. NorVal and its general manager's hostility toward her and the severe emotional distress it caused forced her to take unpaid leave and has prevented her from returning, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace as well as retaliating against an employee for opposing harassment. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. NorVal Electric Cooperative, Inc., Case No. 4:19-cv-00071-BMM) in U.S. District Court for Montana, Great Falls Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks money damages for the office manager and injunctive relief to remedy and prevent sexual harassment and retaliation from recurring.
"The EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace notes that power disparities can be a risk factor for harassment," said EEOC Seattle Field Office Director Nancy Sienko. "Here we found that the company's top executive not only sexually harassed his direct subordinate, but also used his position to circumscribe her ability to report his conduct. It's critical that we send the message loud and clear -- nobody is above the law."
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Amos Blackman said, "This employee should not have to sacrifice a well-paying career to avoid sexual harassment and retaliation. Vigorously protecting workers from such hostility is a priority for the EEOC."
Blackman noted that eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.