Archive for Thursday, March 4, 2004

Baldwin sued by former city employee

Meter reader says she was humiliated by pornographic materials at work

March 4, 2004

A former city meter reader is suing Baldwin over pornographic playing cards, magazines and calendars in the workplace.

Fadra Andrews Mitchell sued in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., last week because she said she was subjected to sexual harassment in a hostile work environment that led to her resignation after less than 10 months as a city employee.

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She's seeking $50,000 to compensate for her loss of earnings as well as embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress she endured while working for the Public Works Department from December 2001 to September 2002.

Mitchell said she could not comment on the case and referred all questions to her attorney, Kay Huff. Huff did not return the Signal's phone calls.

In Mitchell's complaint, she said within weeks of starting her job with the city, she was subjected to a number of "inappropriate sexual materials" in the work place.

City Administrator Jeff Dingman said since he began his job with the city last year, he had seen no evidence of inappropriate materials on city property.

"I haven't seen anything that would corroborate the allegations," he said. "The actions in the allegations are not something the city's going to tolerate."

He said he could not comment on the allegations, especially since as of Wednesday the city had not received formal notice of the lawsuit. He said the only paperwork the city had received was a copy of a "right to sue" letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Dingman, who was not the city administrator when Mitchell worked for the city, said he didn't know much about the alleged incident.

"I understand she had filed a grievance, but I haven't seen any paperwork," he said.

In her complaint, Mitchell said sexual materials were commonplace in the public works building, including playing cards depicting nude males and females "engaged in various sexual activities."

She said co-workers used the playing cards for games during break time, which often led to "offensive remarks and discussion about male and female body parts."

Though she complained, she said, the co-workers, including at least one supervisor, continued using the cards for games. Mitchell was also told she needed to "lighten up."

At one point, Mitchell disposed of the playing cards and some nude calendars. She said her action angered her co-workers, who then began to ignore her, but complained about her work performance to supervisors.

She said her supervisors advised her to "keep a low profile," but the pornographic materials continued to be a problem. Mitchell said nude calendars were in the break room and city vehicles and pornographic magazines in the unisex bathroom.

She said she took her complaints to her supervisors after she shared her concerns with her co-workers, who did nothing but joke about the matter. She said the issue had also been discussed in a city staff meeting, but to her knowledge, no disciplinary action had been taken against anyone for their conduct.

After making repeated complaints, Mitchell said, in July 2002 she was issued a letter of reprimand by her supervisors and placed on a 30-day probation, though she had no "written complaints or counseling" in her personnel file.

She resigned Sept. 4, 2002.

Mitchell said she filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, which determined she had been subjected to a hostile work environment, and it had appeared she had been retaliated against for her complaints.

In her complaint, Mitchell said city officials were not aware of any time from 1999 to 2003 that city employees had received training with regard to sexual harassment.

Dingman said City Clerk Peggy Nichols had been working for the last couple of weeks to set up a sexual harassment training seminar for city employees, but the timing had nothing to do with Mitchell's allegations.

"This is the type of thing that should be done periodically," he said, "even if it hasn't been a problem."

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