Man claims sexual bias in Howard schools Teacher says in suit he was demoted after complaints about boss

January 02, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A Howard County math teacher is suing the school system, alleging that his female supervisor sexually harassed him by calling him "dear" and "sweetheart" and that his complaints about her alleged behavior got him demoted.

Harold Charles Levie, the 1992 Howard County Teacher of the Year, has filed the $300,000-plus lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and discrimination -- an unusual but likely increasingly common case as more women move into supervisory positions, legal experts say.

Levie says in the suit he complained after his supervisor allegedly made demeaning comments, including calling some male employees "cute," and was demoted.

School officials say Levie has misrepresented some assertions in his suit, particularly his allegation that his complaints about sexual harassment went unheeded.

"As a system, we take issue with the facts as presented," said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the school system.

Caplan said Levie's supervisor -- Janie Zimmer -- declined to make a direct comment and deferred statements to Caplan. Zimmer is not being sued personally.

Legal experts said that sexual harassment suits involving accusations against women are not as odd as they might seem.

"The idea that a supervisor uses sex to exert control in the workplace is exactly what sexual harassment is all about," said Karen Czapanskiy, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. "It's not really about sex it's about power."

Greg Manousos, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, said the number of such suits is likely to rise as more women move into managerial and supervisory positions.

Manousos said about 15 percent of his cases deal with men accusing women of harassment, but that might be because few men report it. About 2,000 discrimination cases are filed with the agency every year.

"It's a testosterone thing," Manousos said. "Men don't want to go on record objecting that someone would be coming on to them."

Two years ago, when eight male employees sued Jenny Craig International for sexual discrimination, Manousos' office found probable cause in some of the cases. The men complained that they were embarrassed by female attention to their bodies, were excluded from office conversation and were denied promotions.

Officials from Jenny Craig said five of the eight complaints were dismissed by a judge last year and three cases are pending in Massachusetts state court.

Legal journals and news accounts detail recent cases around the country:

In July, a male cook at a private Massachusetts high school won $90,000 after he claimed he was fired because he refused to rekindle his personal relationship with his female supervisor. The woman called him "lamb chop" in front of co-workers and often teased the man about his sexual abilities, the man alleged.

In February 1996, an air traffic controller at Chicago's O'Hare airport settled a suit dubbed "malehook" after the Navy's Tailhook sex scandal. The man allegedly was groped and grabbed by female co-workers during a cultural diversity workshop exercise.

For Harold "Chuck" Levie, who was secondary supervisor of mathematics during the alleged harassment and discrimination, the situation in the curriculum division of Howard County schools was decidedly anti-male.

He alleges in his suit, filed Dec. 12 in Howard Circuit Court, that when Zimmer asked him to carry a box of supplies bought for a school picnic she told the saleswoman, "This is why I have him."

Zimmer, coordinator for mathematics, once told a sexually explicit story in front of Levie and other school employees, the suit asserts.

Levie also alleges job discrimination. Four key posts, which were not advertised, went to women.

Once, when a woman was promoted to associate superintendent, only the women in the office were invited to lunch. When that was pointed out, the men also received invitations -- and Levie was the only one to attend, the lawsuit states.

Complaints that Levie made to Zimmer's supervisor went unheeded, and once he was told he was being "too sensitive," the lawsuit says.

On Nov. 9, 1995, after meeting with the school system's human relations division, Levie and Zimmer signed a "working agreement" to prevent further sexual harassment. One week later, Levie was informed that his position and those of two other men in the office would be eliminated under a reorganization, according to the lawsuit.

He alleges that though he was qualified to hold a vice principal position he was demoted from secondary supervisor for mathematics to math teacher because of the complaints he made against Zimmer -- resulting in a $15,000 a year pay decrease.

He alleges that he was the only supervisor not to receive a lateral transfer to vice principal.

He is working at Ellicott Mills Middle School. Neither Levie nor his attorney would comment further.

Caplan said she does not think sexual harassment against men exists in the system, and says she has never heard any other complaints.

"Harassment is in the eyes of the beholder," she said. "Just because I don't see" doesn't mean people can't feel it.

Caplan said female teachers predominate in the system. Of 2,600 teachers, 78.9 percent are women.

In the curriculum division, where Levie worked, 77 percent of the employees are women: 40 women and 12 men, she said.

Caplan acknowledged that men were not initially invited to the luncheon honoring the promotion of Sandra Erickson to associate superintendent. The women thought the men would not want to attend, Caplan said. Once the error was discovered, all men were invited.

"The guys kind of joked about it at the time," Caplan said, "and the women said, 'Oh my gosh, we didn't mean to exclude you. We didn't mean to hurt your feelings.' "

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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