Ten years after a secretary first complained that her boss handed out crude jokes with the paychecks at Westminster Woodwork and Lumber Co., a drawn-out case of sexual harassment has ended.
Eugen Williamson delivered a check for $3,390 in back wages last week to Carroll County Circuit Court, beating yesterday's court-ordered deadline and avoiding jail.
The state has never gone to such lengths to collect a sexual harassment judgment, said Lee Hoshall, assistant general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. The case points up inadequacies in state law, he said.
Despite two previous court orders, Williamson, who lives in Hunt Valley and owned the now-closed Carroll County woodworking business, had refused to pay the judgment against him for back pay to a woman he fired in 1989 after she had complained to him for two years about his behavior.
He stood firm in his claim of innocence, despite a judgment against him in July 1994. But last month, a judge gave him 30 days to come up with the money or receive a six-month jail sentence for contempt of court.
The woman who will collect those back wages eight years after she was fired is ambivalent.
"To be quite frank with you, I'd rather see him go to jail," said Denise Livesay of Hampstead, who worked for Williamson from 1987 to 1989.
Williamson said he thought about reporting to jail, even he would have had to trade his tailored suits for an orange jumpsuit and his luxury home for a bunk in the Carroll County Detention Center. Last month, he asked the judge about work release.
"If it had been 90 days or 30 days, I would have gone to jail," Williamson said yesterday from the Hunt Valley home he says is worth $5 million. A second home near Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland is worth about $500,000, he said.
Williamson told Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. last month that he was retired and had no income other than his wife's salary as a teacher, and could not pay the fine. All their assets were held jointly, he said.
"I'm a soccer mom," he told the judge. "I have two 7-year-old boys that I watch during the day."
But Williamson said yesterday that he is not broke.
"It isn't that we couldn't come up with it," he said. "We didn't want to come up with it. But when you have a choice between going to the slammer for six months and paying $3,000, you pay it."
State officials say the case stands out, not because of the harassment claims -- Livesay and four other women testified that Williamson joked about sexual favors when women went to pick up their paychecks and sometimes touched them inappropriately -- but because Williamson refused to settle or pay once the judgment was handed down.
"It's unusual because I refuse to give in," he said. "You know
what I'm guilty of? Being a nice guy and allowing things to go on in the office that I shouldn't have allowed -- kidding and joking.
"I should have told them to knock it off. Girls are very they talk and joke a lot all the time. I had four or five girls and me the only male in the office except for the other guys coming and going from jobs."
This is not the first time Williamson has been in legal trouble with female workers.
Livesay said Williamson fired her because of her complaints and her refusal to testify for him when another woman filed criminal charges.
In October 1989, Williamson was found guilty and fined $350 in Carroll County District Court on two counts of fourth-degree sex offense against a female employee for touching her inappropriately without her consent in June 1989.
Stanley Mazaroff, a senior partner at Venable Baetjer and Howard and author of "Maryland Employment Law," the handbook used by lawyers over the state, said: "I know of no case like it."
Mazaroff, who for 30 years has specialized in defending employers in discrimination suits, said most claimants go to federal court because they can recover much higher damages.
But Livesay said she didn't have the money for a lawyer and the Human Relations Commission will handle a case for free if the staff determines it has merit.
Another unusual element, Mazaroff said, is that few such cases go to trial -- most are settled or dismissed. For instance, Williamson was given the chance to settle for $750, but he refused to sign papers admitting that he had harassed his employees.
Williamson represented himself, cross-examining the state's witnesses and at one point being admonished by the judge after making references to the witnesses' weight.
The stakes were so small that he never bothered to hire a lawyer, Williamson said.
"This is one of the most egregious cases of sexual harassment I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot," said Hoshall, the human relations panel's lawyer. "He harassed almost every female who worked for him, verbally and physically."
Hoshall said the case illustrates that the remedy for discrimination in Maryland is inadequate and that state and local laws are inconsistent.
Under Maryland law, only employees who were wrongfully fired have any right to compensation, and only for back pay for up to three years. Of the women who testified against Williamson, only Livesay had been fired. Because she got another job so quickly, she is entitled only to the difference in her pay until the wages in her new job equaled the $7-an-hour she earned at Westminster Woodwork and Lumber: $2,136. The rest of the money Williamson paid is interest accumulated since the firing.
For Livesay, the satisfaction comes with knowing the case is over.
"This was so nerve-racking and so stressful it's unbelievable," she said. "That's not a whole heck of a lot of money for what we went through. Maybe if these guys had to pay more, they wouldn't do this stuff."
Pub Date: 7/08/97