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Jury Awards $451,000 to Worker Over Same-Sex Harassment

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A federal jury in New Orleans awarded a $451,000 settlement on March 24th to a former employee of Boh Bros. Construction Co. to settle charges that he was sexually harassed by his superintendent.

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The verdict, which was announced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission March 29, is one of an increasing number of same-sex harassment lawsuits filed under federal sexual harassment laws.

The jury declined to find liability and to award greater damages for retaliation against the worker by Boh Bros. He had claimed that, in reponse to his complaints, he was transferred to another, more distant location from his home where he was paid less and subsequently terminated in 2007.

A spokeswoman for Boh Bros. says the superintendent’s behavior was wrong but wasn’t harassment and the company will appeal the verdict.

According to the complaint filed by the EEOC on behalf of ironworker Kerry S. Woods, he was employed in 2006 by Boh Bros. on the I-10 Twin Span project over Lake Pontchartrain between Slidell and New Orleans. The project was an important boost to the region’s infrastructure after the damage sustained by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Woods’ superintendent on the project, the EEOC complaint claims, subjected Woods’ to verbal and physical sexual taunting, innuendo and accusations that Woods was a homosexual. According to the EEOC complaint and testimony during the trial, superintendent Charles Wolfe III repeatedly implied that Woods was effeminate, exposed himself to Woods and came up behind him as if they were having sex.

As a result, Woods suffered “exteme emotional stress,” the EEOC claimed.

In seeking an appeal, Boh claims that the case was “based on the novel theory of liability that should not have been allowed.”

Basically, Boh Bros. argues that what what occurred was crude behavior in the workplace by a male toward another male and that it shouldn’t be considered sexual harassment under the law. “The allegations concerned foul language and gestures from one male to another,” says a Boh Bros.’s spokeswoman, reading a prepared statement. The supervisor’s conduct referred to in this lawsuit “was rowdy, childish and unprofessional and an embarrassment as well as an aberration.”

The employee was severely disciplined, says Boh Bros., but the behavior “never bordered on sexual harassment.”

 

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