BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. –A historic inn and spa allegedly condoned sexual harassment of several female employees for over one year and penalized the women who complained about the hostile work environment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit against 5042 Holdings, doing business as the Country Inn at Berkeley Springs, Candace Bland and a class of other female servers, including several teenagers, were subjected to severe and pervasive sexual harassment by male coworkers. The EEOC charges that male employees repeatedly engaged in offensive and unwelcome touching of female employees, including: grabbing women’s breasts; “humping” against women; slapping women on the buttocks; and kissing them. One harasser allegedly dropped his pants and exposed himself to employees at the workplace. The untoward conduct also included repeatedly requesting women for dates and persistently using sexually derogatory and demeaning language towards the women, the EEOC asserts in the case.
Despite repeated complaints by Bland and other women to the owner and to other managers, the employer failed to take prompt measures to stop the unrelenting harassment. Instead, management temporarily removed Bland from the work schedule as a server and subsequently reduced her hours and the hours of other women who had complained about harassment.
EEOC District Director Marie M. Tomasso of the agency’s Philadelphia District Office, which oversees West Virginia, said of the company, “On its web site, the inn advertises its accommodations as ‘. . . uniquely appointed to create an atmosphere of relaxation and peaceful retreat from the world.’ Contrary to how it seeks to treat its guests, the inn’s management tolerated an environment that was hostile and humiliating to female employees.”
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-61) after first attempting to reach to a voluntary settlement. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the class of women, as well as other relief.
EEOC Acting Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence added, “It is unacceptable for an employer to punish employees who complain about sexual harassment by reducing their work hours and thereby reducing their income. Retaliation like this has a chilling effect on those who choose to exercise their federally protected rights and is blatantly illegal.”