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Sexual Harassment By Company President Leads to Lawsuit

In some small companies sexual harassment is tacitly accepted for years, especially when the perpetrator is the president of the company. Everybody below him fears for their jobs, and nobody complains. Until somebody finally does.

It happened at Village Candle, a 50 employee company outside of Portland, Oregon, which manufactures scented candles. According to a complaint filed by three former employees, there had existed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment starting in 2001, when Paul Aldrich, the company president, allegedly forced a female employee, who is not a plaintiff in the current lawsuits, to have after-hours business dinners with him. The complaints describe one such dinner when Aldrich asked this employee, identified in the complaints only as "MP," to masturbate in front of him. The complaints also recount female staff members being subjected to questions from Aldrich having to do with anal sex, being paid for sex and whether they shave their pubic hair.

One of the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit who worked as vice president of sales and marketing from December 2009 until she was fired on Nov. 28, 2012, accused Aldrich of "rubbing up against her" many times, threatening to fire her when she rejected his advances and making repeated comments about her body.

She was sent a termination email while she was out on medical leave approved under federal law for several months "due to severe and chronic pain in her neck and back," according to her 19-page complaint.

Another plaintiff worked as a retail sales manager for the company for less than a year, from Feb. 13, 2012, until quitting in Dec. 10, 2012. She accuses Aldrich of inappropriately touching her and of unwanted sexual advances.

In November 2012, she sought medical treatment for pain in her neck, back, shoulders and head. Aldrich, according to her complaint, responded to her request for a "reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act in a "retaliatory and hostile manner." She quit that December after drafting an email that claimed she had experienced "multiple unwelcome verbal, visual, and physical conduct of a harassing nature" from Aldrich. In one incident, which occurred on Halloween, Aldrich who was dressed in a gorilla suit picked up and threw her over his shoulder hence the assault and battery charges.

A third plaintiff who worked as a debt collector at the company from January 2011 until being fired in July 2013, accuses Aldrich of inappropriately touching her and of unwanted sexual advances. She suffered for more than a year from "severe anxiety and panic attacks" as a result of her treatment at Village Candle before requesting leave under the Family Medical Leave Act for a serious health condition related to hypertension, stress, anxiety and depression, according to her complaint. Village Candle fired her soon after her approved leave began, the complaint claims.

Although this type of sexual harassment seems extreme, it is not unusual. When the abuser is in charge of the company, there is no other recourse other than quitting, and then filing a lawsuit. Hostile work environment sexual harassment can affect the victim's performance and will erode the morale of all employees if the behavior is repeated and pervasive. In the worst cases, the mental and physical health of the victim is affected.

If you have been sexually harassed at your New York place of employment, contact the attorneys at Schwartz and Perry LLP. We can help you enforce your rights under the law.
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