MCAD Awards $20K for Sexual Harassment and Unlawful Discharge

January 30, 2013

In a recent case, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) awarded $20,000 to a female server who filed a complaint against her employer for sexual harassment and unlawful discharge.

Julie Coburn and Christopher Tilley were servers at Bella Notte, an upscale Massachusetts restaurant. Dmitri Vlasenko was a busboy.

During the more than six years Coburn worked at Bella Notte, Coburn alleged that Vlasenko called her "hot," made various sexual requests and sexual comments to her, and touched her body in an unwanted manner.

When Coburn complained to the restaurant owner, the owned seemed to dismiss the allegations as horseplay. When Coburn threatened to contact a lawyer if Vlasenko's behavior continued, the owner assured her that he would speak to Vlasenko and would terminate him if he made any more offensive comments.

About one month later, Vlasenko made additional sexual comments in Coburn's presence, causing her to become upset, begin to shake, cry, and be unable to perform her job the remainder of the evening. When she again complained to the restaurant owner, he responded that the sexual comment was not directed toward her, that he could not control what Vlasenko said while intoxicated, and that he could not fire Vlasenko before the busy Christmas season because he was a hard worker and would be difficult to replace. However, the owner assured Coburn that she would not have to work with Vlasenko again.

When Vlasenko was again present when Coburn arrived at work, Coburn again became physically and emotionally uncomfortable and complained. The owner fired Vlasenko. However, two years later, the owner rehired Vlasenko. When the owner refused to let Vlasenko go, Coburn quit and filed a complaint with the MCAD.

The MCAD hearing officer concluded that "the conduct of Vlasenko, including unwelcome touching and sexually offensive comments to Complainant that caused her to alter her route to avoid him at work, caused her to cry and to have difficulty performing her duties, such as carrying trays, created a hostile work environment for Complainant that interfered with her work performance. Since Vlasenko was not a supervisor, respondent, Bella Notte, is liable for his offensive conduct only if it knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to remedy the situation. ... In this case the credible evidence was that Respondent, through its owner ..., was aware of Vlasenko's conduct."

Additionally, the MCAD hearing officer found that Coburn was constructively discharged, "because the evidence proves that her working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign." M.C.A.D., et al. v. Cuca

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