Former employees detail sex harassment charges

May 07, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Five women testified at a civil rights hearing in Westminster this week that their former boss met their requests for pay raises with jokes about them performing sex acts with him.

The women told a state administrative law judge that their boss also touched them below the waist or routinely addressed them in vulgarities.

But Hunt Valley businessman Eugen Williamson, the object of the women's harassment complaints, professed innocence at the hearing yesterday and Thursday over the women's charges. The hearing amounted to a civil prosecution by the Maryland Human Relations Commission.

The two women who filed complaints, Denise Livesay and I. May Muller of Westminster, and three other women testified to incidents of harassment they said occurred between 1987 and 1989, when they worked for him at Westminster Woodwork and Lumber Co. as secretaries and salespeople.

"The state [has] been reeled in by a bunch of gals that have gotten together" to get his money, said Mr. Williamson, the company president. He represented himself at the hearing.

Lee Hoshall, assistant general counsel for the Maryland Human Relations Commission and Mr. Williamson's opponent in the proceeding, said it is unusual for an employer to face sexual harassment charges without a lawyer.

That made for awkward and contentious exchanges between Mr. Williamson and the former employees when he cross-examined them on the witness stand.

When Helen Thomas testified, she said she she quit the day Mr. Williamson patted her on the back for making a big sale, then worked his hand below her waist.

L "How do you know where your waist is?" Mr. Williamson asked.

"Sir, I may be overweight because of a medical problem, but at the time I worked for you, I was a size 10 and I knew where my waistline was," said s. Thomas.

Mr. Williamson asked Ms. Livesay about her charge that he boasted he never hired fat women.

"Were you not a little on the heavy side? So, if I wasn't going to hire a fat person, how did you get hired?" Mr. Williamson asked.

Ms. Livesay did not respond, but Judge Melanie A. Vaughn directed Mr. Williamson to ask more appropriate questions. It was one of many times the judge gave him that direction.

Judge Vaughn also said she was not required to give him deference because he had no attorney, but was trying to do so.

The Human Relations Commission mediates civil rights disputes. no settlement is reached -- as in the Williamson case -- the commission may prosecute a civil case before an administrative law judge.

In his closing argument yesterday, Mr. Williamson said if he is fined the $3,000 in back pay the commission is seeking for Ms. Livesay, whom he fired, he probably wouldn't pay it.

"I won't, unless I want to," he said. "I'm the first one to own up to a mistake, but I'm the last one to own up to a bum rap."

If Judge Vaughn finds him liable for the back pay and decides he violated state law in dealing with the women, Mr. Williamson may appeal to Carroll Circuit Court.

Mr. Williamson's once-prosperous business, which specializes in architectural and custom work, currently has no employees and no work, he said.

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