Carroll plant faces sex harassment suit

In U.S. case, ex-worker at Lehigh Cement says she was subjected to pranks and pictures

October 18, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of a 28-year-old female employee who was fired from the Lehigh Cement Co. plant in Union Bridge in March 2005, commission attorneys said yesterday.

Amanda R. Stevens, a laborer at the Union Bridge plant and quarry from October 2001 until her termination, was subject to sexually offensive gestures, pictures, pranks and comments from male co-workers, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

In filing the lawsuit, the commission hopes other females employed at the plant -- who might have also been sexually harassed -- will come forward, said Maria Salacuse, a senior trial attorney for the commission.

"We have reason to believe there are other women," Salacuse said. "At this point, we're not disclosing their names. There is great fear of retaliation."

Officials at Lehigh's Union Bridge plant said yesterday they had not received notice of the commission's complaint. Phone calls to Lehigh's North American corporate headquarters in Allentown, Pa., were not returned.

Male co-workers began harassing Stevens in February 2002, when she started to work at Lehigh's quarry about half a mile from the Union Bridge plant, Salacuse said.

Workers used sexual profanity when talking to Stevens, scratched offensive words into her car with a key, repeatedly sealed her tool locker shut with silicone and presented her with pornographic pictures and gestures, according to court documents.

When Stevens complained to her Lehigh bosses, they failed to take action, and the incidents of harassment intensified, according to court documents.

One day after learning that Stevens planned to hire a lawyer to address her grievances, Lehigh's human resources department fired Stevens, on March 16, 2005, court documents state.

Stevens could not be reached for comment last night.

A majority of Lehigh's 160 Union Bridge employees are men, Salacuse said. She said she didn't know the number of women working there.

Female employees have been told they cannot do certain tasks at the plant because of their gender, according to the court documents.

At the plant and quarry, Stevens did manual labor, such as cleaning up spills of cement materials, Salacuse said.

While investigating Stevens' complaint, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attempted to come to a settlement with Lehigh. But the negotiations were not productive, Salacuse said.

Conditions for women at the Union Bridge plant are comparable to those at the Minnesota iron mines depicted in the movie North Country, Salacuse said. The 2005 movie -- a fictionalized account of the first class action sexual harassment suit in the United States -- is based on the book Class Action.

"This is a nontraditional female type of job we don't see very much," Salacuse said. "But harassment happens there, just as it happens in an office or any type of employment."

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