Car firm hit with 2nd suit Defendant denies women's charges of sex harassment

January 10, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

An Ellicott City car dealership has been sued by a woman who claims she was sexually harassed while working at the business. It was the second suit of its kind against the company in three months.

The president of the dealership, O'Donnell Pontiac Inc., denies the allegations, saying the two suits are the work of one lawyer trying to get money from the company.

Together, the two women are seeking a total of $10 million in damages from O'Donnell Pontiac and two co-defendants, according to the suits filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Each woman claims she was repeatedly harassed by male employees while working at the company's O'Donnell Honda dealership in the 8600 block of Baltimore National Pike.

In the newest case, filed Monday, Jo Ann Letaw of Baltimore contends she was harassed while working as a sales representative at the O'Donnell Honda dealership.

Ms. Letaw, 28, is seeking $4 million in damages from the company and Richard Busick, the dealership's finance director since 1989, the suit says.

She alleges that Mr. Busick subjected her to unwanted touching, sexually explicit comments and gestures, and demands for sex.

Mr. Busick acted with "an evil motive influenced by hatred or spite" to deliberately harm Ms. Letaw, the suit says. Ms. Letaw had to tolerate the acts as a condition for getting a promotion and, ultimately, maintaining her job, the suit says.

But Mr. Busick said he believes Ms. Letaw filed the suit for "monetary value or revenge" because of a flap over her unemployment benefits.

"I have never assaulted, touched or discriminated against anyone either at work or out of work," he said in an interview. "I am furious that an allegation can be made, and I basically have no recourse other than to say I'm going to defend myself."

Officials at O'Donnell are negligent for failing to take action against Mr. Busick after learning of the risk he posed to female employees, the suit says.

The incidents occurred throughout the time Ms. Letaw worked at the dealership, between September 1990 and last November, the suit says. Ms. Letaw's position was "terminated" on Nov. 16.

But Thomas O'Donnell, president of the dealership, contends that Ms. Letaw took a job as a customer service representative because her sales job was taking too much time from her schedule of college courses. When the dealership asked her to return to the sales job, Ms. Letaw left, deciding to accept unemployment benefits, he said.

Mr. O'Donnell said that shortly after the first suit against the company, filed last October, employees were interviewed about whether they faced discrimination, and Ms. Letaw stated in writing that she had never experienced any form of harassment at the company.

In the October lawsuit, Hannelore Traynor of Taneytown claims she was repeatedly harassed while she worked as a sales manager at O'Donnell Honda between December 1990 and July 1991.

Ms. Traynor, 37, is seeking $6 million in damages from the company and the dealership's former general manager, David Piel of Elkridge, the suit says.

Attorneys for Mr. Piel and O'Donnell Pontiac have filed responses in court denying Ms. Traynor's allegations.

Ms. Traynor contends in the suit that she was fired from her job after complaining she had a lower salary than her male counterparts. The suit does not specify the wage differences.

But Mr. O'Donnell said Ms. Traynor worked as a junior manager, a position that carries a salary less than that of a senior manager. Ms. Traynor and men who previously had the same job were paid the same wage, he said.

"Two individuals with the same attorney in a copy-cat deal have filed the lawsuits," Mr. O'Donnell said. "The attorney is a single practitioner who has tried to make it a newspaper issue to embarrass and pressure my company."

Kathleen Cahill, a Baltimore attorney representing the women, dismissed Mr. O'Donnell's allegations.

nTC "The charges are valid, and they are serious," Ms. Cahill said. "The litigation will prove that."

The attorney added that she believes the two cases will strengthen each other.

"In many discrimination cases, credibility battles develop," Ms. Cahill said. "It's generally the case, when there are multiple people making similar allegations, it influences the credibility battle."

But Mr. O'Donnell denied the charges, saying his 47-year-old company has a "no harassment policy" prohibiting any form of verbal or physical discrimination.

"I am outraged that someone would accuse my company of that," Mr. O'Donnell said. "If the two people accused are guilty, I would not tolerate them for one minute."

The company has 32 female employees out of 156 workers.

The women who filed the complaints could not be reached for comment.

Despite the suits, Mr. O'Donnell said he would welcome the women back to his company. "Both employees are eligible to return to the company in their former positions," he said. "I don't have any ill will toward those people. All they have to do is call."

Ms. Cahill said she doubts the women will take the offer.

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