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USA: Lawsuit - Porn made for hostile workplace

Publish Date: 19 Nov 2011
Source: News-leader, Ca.

Lawsuit: Porn made for hostile workplace

Woman sues Webster Electric Cooperative, manager and board.

A top Webster Electric Cooperative official's habit of watching pornography while on the job made the office environment so hostile, women began to refer to it in coded words and one complained to human resources, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The suit was filed Friday in Webster County Circuit Court. It names as defendants General Manager Thomas E. Houston, the utility itself, board member John William Greer and the remainder of the board. The plaintiff is J. Michelle Luebbert.

An attorney for Houston vigorously denied the suit's allegations; an attorney for the board issued a statement saying the board was investigating Luebbert's claims.

Luebbert, who worked at the cooperative since 2002, said in her suit that the board of directors fired her on Sept. 21, after she complained to them about Houston watching pornography in his office. Workers could see his screen through an open door. She was manager of accounting and finance at the time of the firing.

"His viewing progressively became more frequent and active, the extent of which was pervasive, continuous and offensive," her attorney Jay Kirksey wrote in the suit. The day before she was fired, the suit says, Luebbert "was offered a settlement if she would remain quiet as to Defendant Houston's conduct."

Kirksey wrote that it got so difficult in the office that women would purposefully step on a metal grate near Houston's door in hopes the sound of someone approaching would get him to switch the screen. Kirksey also said the women used weather terms to refer to their chances of catching Houston watching pornography.

Houston also allegedly berated Luebbert for stirring the pot and gave her poor performance reviews before she was fired, the suit said. After the termination, she received a letter from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights allowing her to file a lawsuit claiming sexual discrimination and harassment, according to the lawsuit.

In denying the suit's claims, attorneys for Houston said in a statement that the suit inaccurately reflected what led to her termination. They noted Houston worked at the cooperative for 15 years and became general manager in 2008. He is being represented by Hall, Ansley, Rodgers and Sweeney, a Springfield law firm.

"As the general manager of the cooperative, he has made every effort to promote a positive environment for all departments within the organization," the statement said.

The statement from attorney Shawn Battagler, who is representing the cooperative, didn't mention Houston or any of the other issues addressed in the lawsuit.

Kirksey said Luebbert is claiming a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and retaliatory firing and is seeking damages of an unspecified amount and back pay.


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