FLORIDA TODAY (Melbourne, FL)
October 2, 2007
’Hostile environment’ costs
By LINDA JUMP
PALM BAY — A former city meter reader was awarded $100,000 by a jury who said his supervisor created a hostile work environment after he complained of sexual harassment.
Thomas Rolfe, 40, who is not working and on disability, said his former supervisor flashed and used sexual language in front of him and other workers.
“Somebody finally listened to me,” Rolfe said Monday, one day after the jury’s award. Rolfe was a meter reader from 2002 to 2006, when he was fired.
His attorney, Maurice Arcadier of Melbourne, said today he plans to file a wrongful termination suit in federal court. “The city should think twice about what their blue collar workers go through on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Rolfe claimed his field service supervisor, Donna Elliott, who still works for the city, mooned him and flashed her breasts at other workers more than once and used inappropriate sexual language in the office. The last straw, he said, was when she displayed a sex toy. When he complained, he said in his suit, he was given more work, scrutinized more closely and eventually fired.
“It’s the city’s position that the facts showed she (Elliott) did nothing wrong,” said Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the city. “The city believes they have legal ground for an appeal.”
But she said fighting the suit has already cost the city $250,000, not including the $100,000 award from the risk management budget.
“We have to decide if it’s worth the cost to fight it,” Martinez said. Elliott has worked for the city for 15 years and in her personnel file is characterized as a conscientious employee. Her record shows that she completed annual training beginning 2003 for a harassment-free workplace.
Martinez said she received counseling when the initial allegations were made. She could not be reached for comment.
Rolfe said he reported Elliott’s behavior to the human resources department in February 2004 and also to his union representative.
He said he applied to be transferred to another department several times, but he worked with Elliott for another 18 months. “I dreaded going to work every day,” Rolfe said. “They were definitely trying to intimidate me and scare me.”
Circuit Court Judge George Turner dismissed accusations of sexual harassment, saying that Rolfe wasn’t directly touched and that Elliott’s actions weren’t directed at Rolfe. Jurors deliberated about two hours before returning their verdict for Rolfe.
Contact Jump at 409-1423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attorney: Maurice Arcadier
Date Filed: 2005-10-03
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