Businessman is guilty of sexual harassment

July 27, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

A judge ruled last week that a Hunt Valley businessman is guilty of sexually harassing female employees at Westminster Woodworking and Lumber Co. and must undergo professional counseling and pay back wages to one woman he fired.

Eugen Williamson, owner of the company, said yesterday that he expects to appeal the decision issued July 21 by Administrative Law Judge Melanie Vaughn.

She heard testimony in the case May 5 and May 6.

"I'm not guilty," Mr. Williamson said. "This is just a bunch of people getting together and telling lies."

At the hearing, several women who worked for Mr. Williamson testified that he touched them without their consent, joked about sexual favors when they asked him for a raise and used an obscenity to refer to them.

Mr. Williamson chose to represent himself, saying it wasn't worth hiring a lawyer for a fine that would be no more than $2,400. He said he still has no plans to hire a lawyer or to pay the back wages.

"I wouldn't pay the money, because I'm not guilty. I've been bum-rapped," he said.

He said he would ignore the order but is appealing for the sake of his wife and twin sons, whom he says support him and want the record set straight.

Mr. Williamson said his Westminster Woodworking and Lumber business has been inactive for the past eight months while he finished a house he built in Hunt Valley. The company has no employees, he said, but still rents space at an industrial park on Lucabaugh Mill Road.

As for the order that he seek professional counseling, Mr. Williamson said that doesn't pose a problem.

"What would be the big deal about counseling? So you go to a few sessions, talk to a group," he said.

The order for counseling is an unusual but appropriate one, said Lee Hoshall, assistant general counsel for the Maryland Human Relations Commission. Mr. Hoshall prosecuted the case and asked that the judge give such an order.

Because Maryland law allows people to sue just for lost wages in civil rights disputes, only one of the women who accused Mr. Williamson of harassment may collect money.

Judge Vaughn ordered Mr. Williamson to pay $2,136.75, plus interest accrued since 1989, to Denise Livesay of Westminster. The amount represents wages she would have earned in the week before she found a job after Mr. Williamson fired her in July 1989, plus the difference in pay until she got raises at her current job.

The women who quit are not entitled to collect lost wages under Maryland law.

"I'm very disappointed in the amount, which is a reflection of the inadequacy of the state law," Mr. Hoshall said. "Plaintiffs are treated as second- or third-class citizens."

The judge also ordered Mr. Williamson to draft a company policy on sexual harassment and to provide training for himself and his employees, at his own expense like the counseling.

As with most such cases, the order also calls for Ms. Livesay to get her job back, if she wants it.

She doesn't, she said.

"I would never go back there," she said. "Finally, I don't have to deal with it anymore. It's out of my life."

She was dismayed at the time it took to get the case prosecuted, she said, but is glad it's over. If Mr. Williamson appeals, she won't have to testify again; the appeal would be decided on the testimony from the May hearing in Westminster before Judge Vaughn.

"I'm just glad it's over, after 4 1/2 years of thinking, 'Am I going to forget something?' and trying to relive everything to make sure everything was right," she said.

The money was a minor point, she said.

"The money doesn't matter to me at all. It's not that much money. We did this because, finally, everybody knows about him. He's not in his little nook, doing things and controlling people," Ms. Livesay said.

Mr. Hoshall said he knows of no other cases in which judges ordered counseling for someone guilty of harassment.

While judges often order counseling for drug and alcohol abuse in criminal cases, it is rare in civil prosecution, he said.

"I think sexual harassment should be treated the same way other sexual offenses or disorders are," he said. "To me, Mr. Williamson is a sex offender and he should undergo counseling."

This is not the first time Mr. Williamson has been in legal trouble with female workers.

Ms. Livesay said he fired her because of her complaints to him about his behavior and her refusal to testify for him when another woman filed criminal charges.

In October 1989, Mr. Williamson was found guilty and fined $350 by Judge Francis M. Arnold in Carroll District Court on two counts of fourth-degree sex offense against another female employee for touching her inappropriately without her consent in June 1989.

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