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Press Release 06-06-2011

Columbia Women's Shelter To Pay $103,000 To Settle EEOC Suit For Retaliation

True North Fired One Employee and Demoted Another for Alerting Management To Executive Director's Sexual Harassment, Federal Agency Charged

ST. LOUIS A Columbia, Mo., shelter for women who have been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse has agreed to pay $103,000 to settle a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for unlawful retaliation, the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that two employees were punished by True North, Inc., formerly known as Comprehensive Human Services, Inc., for reporting sexual harassment by the shelter's executive director.

According to the EEOC's suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri (Civil Action No. 2:10-4216), Nancy Gause and Tracie Lawson, who were co-directors of the shelter at the time, alerted board of directors members that Executive Director Leigh Voltmer had touched staff members inappropriately on several occasions. Voltmer was the highest-ranking employee at the shelter. Gause said she was complaining on behalf of staff members whom she supervised.

Less than two weeks after making the complaint, Gause was terminated and Lawson was demoted and her salary was cut. Both women had received positive feedback regarding their performance during their tenure as employees, but were terminated without warning, allegedly for poor performance. Following the board's actions, other employees came forward and complained about a hostile environment created by Voltmer.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from allowing a hostile environment in the workplace. It also protects employees from retaliation based on their complaints about such violations of the law. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to making monetary payments to Gause and Lawson, the shelter has agreed to provide training on sexual harassment and retaliation to its employees, post a notice in the facility and report sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC.

"Nancy Gause and Tracie Lawson came forward at great personal risk to report complaints they had received from the shelter's staff," said Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC's St. Louis District. "Comprehensive Human Services is an organization that purports to shield women from abuse. These women should have been supported in reporting sexual harassment, not punished for doing the right thing. The EEOC is committed to fighting retaliation in the workplace."

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at