Accusations of on-the-job harassment ranging from lewd comments to displays of sexual behavior are the basis of a lawsuit filed against the Town of Cheektowaga by a female employee in the Sewer Maintenance Department.
Eleven men – including the town’s employee relations coordinator, three supervisors and seven co-workers – are cited for their alleged actions, or lack of action, in a complaint filed late last month in U.S. District Court by attorneys for Lisa Sprada, who still works for the town.
The complaint details alleged comments and acts, including:
• A male co-worker touching himself.
• Comments about her body.
Earlier this year the state Division of Human Rights ruled against Sprada, citing evidence that it said showed she often participated in sexual discussions with co-workers and had kissed a co-worker at the center of the complaint.
“Multiple investigations of Ms. Sprada’s allegations all have concluded there is no basis for her complaints, and we have every confidence that will be the case in the federal court review,” Town Attorney Kevin G. Schenk said.
Sprada was hired in May 2010 as a clerk typist for the Sewer Maintenance Department. In court papers, Sprada complained about harassment that she said occurred on an almost daily basis after she transferred to a higher-paying job of sewer maintenance worker in August 2011. Sprada was promoted to senior sewer maintenance worker earlier this year.
Attorney Lindy Korn, who represents Sprada, declined to comment about the lawsuit.
But as for the Division of Human Rights ruling, Korn said, “It is common to get a ‘no probable cause’ and to go to federal court, where you have real discovery, and have the case turn out very differently.”
In January, Sprada filed a complaint against the town and the Sewer Maintenance Department with the state Division of Human Rights. While that was pending, the men with whom Sprada worked ostracized and belittled her, and attempted to intimidate her because she had complained about being sexually harassed, according to court papers.
The agency dismissed the complaint in May.
Regional Director Tasha E. Moore signed an order that there was “no probable cause to believe that the respondent [town] has engaged in or is engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of.”
Further, the order said the town conducted a thorough investigation which “culminated in the conclusion that Complainant had been involved in a consensual sexual relationship with a co-worker.”
Sprada’s lawsuit, which claims discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Civil Rights Act, seeks unspecified monetary damages to be determined at trial.
The lawsuit names Tony Romano, coordinator of employee relations; Bob Latshaw, Mark Bessing and Ray Bobeck, who held supervisory roles over Sprada; and co-workers Dave Ford, Scott Zaranek, Lou Arricale, Ritchie Wdowik, Gene Dudek, Pete Dudek and Tommy Marten.
According to court papers, a supervisor told Sprada before she transferred that some men who work in the department behave inappropriately at work and that he would talk to them about curbing their sexually explicit language and behavior.
Sprada first talked to that supervisor about her colleagues’ behavior within two months of the transfer. She talked to that same supervisor and others on several occasions through November 2012, when she was taken to see the employee relations coordinator to report what had been happening.
That same month, a co-worker allegedly told Sprada that if she “went to the boss, we’ll go to the boss about you.”
The town hired a private investigations firm in response to Sprada’s complaints. According to Schenk, the town attorney, the firm worked with the town’s Employee Relations staff to interview employees and collect sworn statements and other evidence in November 2012, and February and September of this year.
“In each instance, the investigations concluded there was no basis for Ms. Sprada’s claims of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation,” Schenk said.