Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Feds: Victims felt traumatized after UNM sex assault probes

A U.S. Justice Department review of nearly 173 allegations of sexual harassment — including sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence — at the University of New Mexico included reports from women who described feeling traumatized as school officials investigated their complaints.

Findings released earlier this month from a 16-month Justice Department probe into the University of New Mexico’s handling of sexual harassment complaints found the school had violated federal laws as it dismissed allegations without properly weighing evidence, showed gender bias or insensitivity in its reviews, and took as long as eight months to investigate complaints.

Federal guidelines recommend that a school’s sexual harassment investigations are completed in 60 days.

University of New Mexico President Robert Frank said the investigation painted an inaccurate picture of the campus because it represented only a snapshot in time.

But Frank said he would cooperate with the government on its recommendations — which come after the school has already begun rolling out policy changes and awareness campaigns to make the campus safer.

“Department of Justice or no Department of Justice this has been our standard all along,” he said.


The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division opened its investigation after receiving complaints from victims over the university’s handling of their reports.

Much of the investigation, launched in December 2014, reviewed the school’s compliance with a law known as Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. While better known for guaranteeing girls equal access to sports, Title IX also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and is increasingly being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.


Students, faculty and staff lack a basic understanding of their options for reporting assaults or where to turn for help, and the school’s broken system for handling complaints has created a confusing grievance process, the Justice Department said.

During the course of the investigation, school administrators already began improving how allegations are investigated, but there is still need for improvement, federal officials said. Frank, the university’s president, said the school’s recent efforts weren’t adequately represented in the report.

In one case, a student described how an investigator with the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity repeatedly called the person accused in the assault her “ex-lover,” despite reporting the two had no prior relationship, federal authorities said. Another student’s case was determined to have lacked “tangible” evidence that her attacker tried to strangle her, despite medical records showing she had redness and bruising on her neck, according to the federal investigation.


A meeting that has yet to be scheduled is the next step to reach an agreement on implementing federal recommendations.

The Justice Department recommends the university provide training to students and staff with information on how to report attacks. It also urged the school to revise its policies so it can promptly respond to sexual harassment, which creates a hostile campus environment.

But there’s little precedent for how the Justice Department might track steps for reform. The University of New Mexico is only the second school to undergo a Justice Department probe under Title IX into its handling of sexual harassment claims. The University of Montana was the first.

In Montana, school officials reached an agreement with the Justice Department requiring them to hire a higher-education consultant with expertise in harassment prevention to develop policies and training. The university also had to set a timeline for clarifying how students and staff report assault and harassment.

Across Europe, LGBT migrants face abuse in asylum shelters

Alaa Ammar fled Syria to escape not just civil war but also the threat of persecution as a gay man. Yet when he arrived in The Netherlands last spring, he did not find the safe haven he craved.

He and four other gay travelers had to face newly arrived asylum seekers at a migrant center in the remote northern town of Ter Apel.

“After five minutes, they started looking. After 10 minutes, they started to talk. After one hour, they came to us,” said Ammar. “After three hours, they started fighting with us.”

Across Europe, LGBT migrants say they suffer from verbal, physical and sexual abuse in refugee shelters and some have been forced to move out.

The AP found out about scores of documented cases in The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, with the abuse usually coming from fellow refugees and sometimes security staff and translators.

In Germany, the Lesbian and Gay Federation counted 106 cases of violence against LGBT refugees in the Berlin region from August through the end of January. Most of the cases came from refugee centers and 13 included sexual abuse.

Joerg Steinert, head of the federation in Berlin-Brandenburg, said refugees have been asking gay groups for help all over the country, reluctant to approach police for fear of jeopardizing their asylum applications. Last year, the federation placed 50 people in private homes because the migrant centers were too dangerous.

“These asylum shelters are law-free areas,” he said. “When I come to our office on Monday morning, there’s usually a bunch of refugees waiting outside in the hallway who need help immediately.”

Charities and private shelter operators say they’ve simply been too overwhelmed by the huge influx of migrants to attend to some refugees’ special needs. Masses of people often live in one big hall, without lockable rooms or gender-separated washrooms.

In Berlin, where four hangars at the former Tempelhof airport were turned into a reception center for 2,100 people, four cases of gay abuse were reported.

Maria Antonia Kipp, spokeswoman for private center operator Tamaja, said it’s very difficult to create safe spaces for homosexuals when hundreds of bunk beds are separated only by thin wooden boards.

“When we see a dangerous situation or people tell us about it, we’ll get the people out and transfer them to smaller shelters,” she said.

The German Red Cross said it had a code of conduct banning violence at its shelters.

And the Arbeiterwohlfahrt, or Worker’s Welfare charity group, said it is trying to create safe spaces in new centers but cannot implement the highest standards it would like.

“We’ve been somewhat overrun by reality,” said spokeswoman Mona Finder.

Some critics say it is up to the German government to protect migrants. But last month, a proposal to increase the security of asylum shelters was taken out of a government bill, despite official reprimands from the European Commission that Germany is not implementing EU safety guidelines.

Without the government, the protection of gay migrants has largely fallen to rights groups and local communities.

Earlier this week, gay rights group Schwulenberatung Berlin will open a new home with 122 beds for gay refugees in cooperation with the city of Berlin and another shelter with 10 beds was recently opened in Nuremberg. Berlin has also appointed a counselor as contact person for the registration of LGBT migrants.

Schwulenberatung Berlin’s Mahmoud Hassino said the new Berlin shelter would be a big improvement for LGBT refugees.

“Gay refugees live in constant fear in the big shelters,” said the 40-year-old Syrian refugee.

Hassino came to Germany in 2014 and had to move out of a Berlin shelter himself because of the hostility of fellow refugees. 

“Even if they don’t get abused right away, they’re always afraid their identity will be revealed and then they’ll be targeted,” he said.

The situation for gay refugees is difficult all over Europe. In Spain, for example, two migrants from Cameroon and a third from Morocco were physically abused after their sexual orientation was discovered by others at shelters, according to the Pueblos Unidos nonprofit.

In Sweden, a court sentenced an asylum seeker to five months in prison last summer for making death threats, along with spitting in the face and grabbing the throat of a fellow refugee in a center in Jonkoping. When the victim collapsed onto the floor, the attacker kicked him unconscious. Witnesses and a surveillance video backed the claims.

The motive was the victim’s homosexuality. The attacker was “outraged that Sweden protects homosexuality and all should be killed by slaughtering,” according to court documents.

In Finland, cases of gay harassment and abuse also  have been recorded at refugee centers, according to SETA, a nationwide LGBT group. As a result, some of the centers have separated a secure section for those afraid of sexual harassment.

Other migrants have contacted SETA after fleeing their designated refugee center because of abuse. Earlier this month, a Finnish court gave an asylum seeker a three-and-half-year prison sentence for raping a migrant man at a southern Finnish center.

In Denmark, there have been at least 10 cases of harassment, according to Mads Ted Drud-Jensen from the LGBT Asylum group. He stressed that those figures represent only victims who have been in contact with the group.

“Stepping out of the closet may be hard to do and not everyone is talking to us,” he said.

In the Netherlands, a Dutch human rights group reported earlier this month on regular abuse of gays and lesbians at a large camp that can house up to 3,000 asylum seekers near the city of Nijmegen. The group, The College for Human Rights, said one asylum seeker “has repeatedly found excrement and food in his bed. He is threatened and abused by fellow residents.”

The asylum seeker, whose identity was not disclosed, said he feared for his safety because some other refugees carried knives. The report said he often found notes in his bed such as “kill gay” and “we don’t want gay in the camp.”

When Ammar reported abuse in Ter Apel, he and other gay refugees were put up on the floor of a restaurant for a night. Then they were transferred to another shelter in Apeldoorn.

There too, Ammar said, three fellow refugees attacked him and another man in the communal washroom and slashed them with a knife.

“You could see from their eyes that they wanted to hurt me,” he said.

Again, Ammar was transferred, back to a caravan in Ter Apel. Employees with the COA asylum organization advised them to close the doors and windows, he said, but other asylum seekers “opened the windows and said bad things to us.”

Spokesman Jan-Willem Anholts said COA does not keep records of complaints of gay abuse, but does have “protective” measures for people at risk. Anholts also raised concerns that creating safe houses for specific groups could lead to a type of “segregation” in Dutch society.

It was only after Ammar received asylum and moved in with a private host in Amsterdam a few weeks ago that he started to feel really safe.

“Who wouldn’t like Amsterdam?’ Ammar said as he looked carefully left and right before crossing roads — already seasoned at watching out for speeding bicycles in the Dutch capital. “People don’t care if I’m gay or not. I can scream ‘I’m gay!’ and they will say, ‘Welcome.’” 

As Zimbabwe seeks to extradite American who slaughtered lion, donations pour in for conservation group

EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrects money raised to U.S. dollars

A pair of U.S. philanthropists with a passion for wild cats pledged Friday to match new donations to Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit — the researchers who were tracking the movements of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

Tom Kaplan, a natural resource investor whose net worth was put by Forbes magazine at $1 billion, and his wife, Daphne, will match donations made after 3 p.m. London time Friday up to a total value of $100,000. The Kaplans hope to help the Oxford researchers raise half a million pounds to further their work.

More than the equivalent of half a million in U.S. dollars has already been raised from all over the world — $150,000 of it in the 24 hours after Jimmy Kimmel made a tearful plea for funding to assist WildCRU’s conservation efforts.

David McDonald, the director and founder of WildCRU, thanked Kimmel with a message on the organization’s website that said: “Jimmy Kimmel implored his millions of listeners in the USA to make donations to support our work on lions, and conservation more widely. We are so grateful for this and for the up-welling of support for our work worldwide.”

Kaplan said he was spurred into action to maintain the conservation momentum that Cecil’s death sparked.

“We have to seize this moment where we can all make a difference,” Tom Kaplan said in a statement, adding that if the “death of Cecil can lead to the saving of many more lions, then some good can come from tragedy.”

The pledge comes hours after Zimbabwe started extradition proceedings for the American dentist who paid two locals $50,000 to help him lure the lion out of a national park under cover of night and shot him with a crossbow. The wounded lion roamed for 40 hours in pain before the three men found, shot, skinned and decapitated the beloved animal.

Walter Palmer “had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA,” Oppah Muchinguri, the African nation’s environment minister, told CNN.

But the Bloomington, Minnesota, dentist apparently has gone in to hiding. He briefly hired a public relations agency, but the firm quickly dropped him as a client. His business and suburban Minneapolis McMansion have been shuttered and all of his social media profiles have been erased.

A representative of Palmer’s contacted the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement late yesterday, but Palmer has yet to surface.

Cecil was not the first large mammal doomed to an illegal death by “trophy hunter” Palmer. The Bloomington, Minnesota, resident was convicted of poaching a black bear he killed in Wisconsin several years ago.

Records also show that Palmer had other impulse-control issues. His dental practice’s insurance company paid $127,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a former receptionist there.

Palmer, who donated $5,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, was also ordered to take management and ethics classes.

The slaughter of Cecil, a protected and internationally beloved resident of Hwange National Park, has touched off international outrage and sparked a worldwide conversation as to how to best safeguard the dwindling number of big cats. It has also harmed the local economy. Zimbabwe officials estimated that Cecil brought the area about $100,000 in tourism.

Oxford’s WildCRU, one of the world’s top university research groups, tracks the movements of hundreds of lions and runs an anti-poaching team. It also works with local farmers to help them live alongside the lions. It had followed Cecil’s movements in minute detail since 2008.

To make a donation to WildCRU from North America, click here.

Revelations surface about the dentist who slaughtered Cecil the lion, including sexual harassment case

Walker J. Palmer, currently the most despised person on the Internet, has a history of thwarting inconvenient laws to satisfy his cravings.

Several years before gaining infamy for conniving to slaughter a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, the Minnesota dentist settled a sexual harassment claim for $127,500.

Walker J. Palmer, currently the most despised person on the Internet, has a history of thwarting inconvenient laws to satisfy his cravings.

Several years before gaining infamy for conniving to slaughter a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, the Minnesota dentist settled a sexual harassment claim for $127,500.

The suit was brought by a woman who worked as a receptionist for his dental practice from 1999 to 2005. In her complaint, the woman alleged she “was subjected to ongoing and unwelcome sexual harassment by (Palmer) including, but not limited to, verbal comments and physical conduct involving her breasts, buttocks, and genitalia.”

The woman complained that she was fired for reporting Palmer’s conduct to her supervisor at the clinic. In addition to the fine, he was also ordered by the court to complete a jurisprudence exam and ethics course.

The case was settled in 2009, six years before Palmer, a lifelong big game hunter, paid two African guides $50,000 to help him lure a legally protected and iconic lion out of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and slaughtering it on July 1. Cecile the lion, who had a distinctive black mane, was loved by locals and wildlife lovers throughout the world, who traveled to Zimbabwe just to see and photograph the magnificent animal.

Palmer shot the 13-year-old lion with a crossbow, then tracked the suffering animal for 40 hours before shooting, skinning and decapitating it.

Palmer, who is being sought by Zimbabwe authorities, is apparently in hiding. His dental clinic in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, is shuttered. All of his social media accounts have been removed.

Prior to disappearing, Palmer said he didn’t know the lion was protected; but in skinning and decapitating the animal, he would have seen the tracking collar Cecil wore in connection with a wildlife study conducted by Oxford University. There is evidence that Cecil’s killers tried to destroy the GPS device.

Cecil’s killing was not Palmer’s first run-in with the law over his passion for gunning down large animals. Court documents show Palmer was fined $3,000 and given a year’s probation after pleading guilty for the illegal slaughter of a black bear in Wisconsin in 2006. He alsowas found guilty of making false statement to wildlife officials in that case.

In 2003, Palmer was also convicted in Minnesota for fishing without a license.

The killing of Cecile comes at a time when conservationists are alarmed by the rapid decline of African lions, elephants and rhinos. Over the past 30 years, Africa’s lion populations have fallen almost 60 percent, leaving only about 32,000 of them in the wild, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said. In the 1960s, there were over 200,000.

“As troubling as it is, the rarer these trophy hunted animals become, the more hunters are willing to pay to kill them, said Jeff Flocken, the fund’s North American regional director. An American recently paid $350,000 to kill a critically endangered black rhino on Namibia.

Activists, celebrities and a large swath of people who love animals and deplore the senseless killing of sentient beings have besieged Palmer with threats and angry Internet postings. A makeshift shrine for Cecil was created by animal lovers at the entryway into his dental practice. His patients have been notified that he can no longer serve them.

The outrage over Palmer’s sadistic behavior and the rapid disappearance of wildlife from the planet brought forth vicious comments on social media and television.

Actress Mia Farrow posted a tweet containing Palmer’s business address in Minneapolis but removed it a short time later, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail. Instead she showed a picture of his dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.

PETA tweeted that Palmer should be executed his actions.

“If, as reported, this dentist & guides lured #CeciltheLion out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property because shooting #CeciltheLion in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, &, preferably, hanged,” PETA tweeted.

“Hunting is a coward’s pastime,” PETA wrote. “To get a thrill at the cost of life this man gunned down (a) loved (animal) ‘w/ a high-powered weapon. All wild animals are beloved by their own, but to hunters like this overblown, over-privileged little man, they’re merely targets.

The photograph of this dentist, smiling over the corpse of another animal, will disgust every caring soul in the world.”

Wisconsin DNR disciplined 20 workers in 2014 | Infractions included sex-toy business, harassment, online insults

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources disciplined several employees last year for alleged infractions including sexual harassment, running a sex toy business on state time and posting insulting remarks about the public online, agency records show.

The records also indicate a ranger was fired for trying to use his badge to avoid a traffic citation. Another was suspended for involving a ride-along observer in a high-speed chase.

The agency sent 20 letters reprimanding, suspending or firing workers in 2014. The DNR, which employs about 2,300 workers, released 19 of the letters to The Associated Press as part of an open records request. It withheld the 20th letter because it said that worker is challenging its release in court.

The disciplined employees amount to less than 1 percent of the agency’s roughly 2,300 workers.

A February letter accuses Teague Prichard, a state lands specialist, of sexually harassing three female co-workers in a hotel bar in Appleton following a forestry meeting in January. The letter alleges he rubbed one of the women’s thighs and called her beautiful and sexy. He then began rubbing another co-worker’s back while simultaneously rubbing the third woman’s thigh. When the third woman commented on his conduct, Prichard allegedly suggested she was dressed inappropriately. The letter counts as an unpaid three-day suspension.

Prichard didn’t respond to email and voicemail messages seeking comment.

Arahseris Cerna, an employee at the DNR’s Sturtevant Service Center, was reprimanded in April for allegedly conducting personal business on the job. According to her letter, she worked on the side for a company that sells sex products during in-home gatherings and she passed out brochures and delivered items to DNR colleagues at the service center.

Another letter indicates Caitlin Carmody, an employee who answered the phone at the Wausau Service Center, was suspended for one day in August. According to the letter, Carmody posted comments on Facebook using her work computer on state time in June. One comment stated she hated her job and another series of posts made fun of calls she had received.

No listing for Cerna or Carmody could be found on the DNR’s website or in the state employee directory and no residential listings could be found for them. Neither call center had contact information for them.

Ranger Eric Wachdorf was fired in September for improperly using his DNR-issued badge to avoid a citation for a traffic violation, another letter shows. The letter doesn’t offer any additional details but online court records don’t list any traffic citations against Wachdorf. He didn’t respond to a voicemail left at what may be his home number.

Ranger Matthew Wilhelm was suspended for a day in December for improperly engaging in a high-speed pursuit of a vehicle in Palmyra in June with a ride-along observer in his vehicle, another letter said. The chase reached speeds of about 85 mph in foggy conditions with limited visibility, greatly increasing the risk of injury or death, the letter said. Wilhelm didn’t respond to an email or a voicemail left at his office.

Another letter shows that Robert Lauer, a fisheries worker who was suspended for five days in 2013 for punching a co-worker, was fired in July for failing to notify a supervisor he intended to take vacation time, arriving for work late and leaving early, sleeping overnight in the Asylum Bay Fish Station and using the station’s stove to cook his dinner. No residential listing for Lauer could be found.

Company denies man lost job over Playgirl spread

A company that helps businesses handle personnel issues denies it forced one if its employees out of his job after it was discovered he had posed nude in Playgirl magazine.

Daniel Sawka filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in May 2013 against Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Inc. alleging sexual harassment. The company responded in a court filing earlier this week.

Sawka worked as a regional sales manager for ADP, which offers workforce management services, including payroll services and human resources management, for other companies and says it has more than 610,000 clients around the world.

Sawka alleges he was subjected to constant jokes and ridicule at work after a woman in his Connecticut office discovered he had posed nude in the early 1990s in a lumberjack-themed spread for Playgirl and found the photos online.

Jokes included “a comment about homosexual men viewing the photos and what they would be doing while viewing the photos,” according to the lawsuit. “(ADP) employees would say ‘timber’ or ‘lumberjack’ in reference to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s photos.”

Sawka, 49, said his co-workers continued to download the pictures at work even after he implored them not to and to “leave me alone.”

He said company employees brought the issue up during a dinner in New York honoring Sawka for his job performance and during a company outing to a New York Yankees baseball game.

He said he went to the company’s personnel department in February 2011 and was promised the company would take appropriate actions.

He alleges the company failed to end the ongoing sexual harassment and he was “constructively discharged,” a legal term meaning the conditions were so intolerable he was forced to leave the job in March 2011.

“The sexual harassment … that included managers participating in the sexual harassment, condoning it, and failing to stop it caused (Sawka) to be treated unequally when compared to similarly situated sales managers,” the lawsuit says.

The company, in its response, denies there was a “pattern and practice” of jokes, sexually charged comments and ridicule. It also says it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any alleged harassing behavior.”

Sawka is seeking damages for lost pay and benefits and emotional distress.

Editor’s note: We usually try to provide an image with our reports, and this would be a great story to illustrate. But we could not find an image we could gain rights to publish.

In San Diego, a U.S. House race has made-for-TV drama

A late-night break-in, a stolen campaign playbook that ended up in the hands of the opponent and sexual harassment accusations made by a fired staffer against one of the candidates.

It sounds like a soap opera, but it’s a real-life race for a House seat in California that’s one of the tightest in the country, and perhaps, the most dramatic. No criminal charges have been filed.

The competitors in the congressional race are first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters and Republican challenger Carl DeMaio. Outside groups have spent about $4.7 million in the race so far. At stake: a San Diego-area district divided about evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents.

DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, has emerged as a national figure in part because he is a rarity: an openly gay, Republican congressional candidate. He’s proven himself a strong communicator and fundraiser, but he also is a candidate often surrounded by controversy.

The commotion began early in the election season when DeMaio’s campaign reported, just before California’s June primary, that its headquarters had been ransacked. Computer screens had been smashed, phone cords cut and water poured onto laptops and printers, the campaign reported. Police told local media in late August that former staffers were being questioned about the break-in.

More recently, one of those staffers alleged that DeMaio groped and sexually harassed him. Like DeMaio, the accuser is gay.

The San Diego District Attorney’s Office issued a statement Monday saying neither case had sufficient evidence to file charges.

Two weeks from Election Day, the question is whether the drama surrounding DeMaio will hurt his campaign. San Diego is still trying to recover from the political turmoil caused by the multiple allegations of sexual harassment that led to the resignation of former Democratic mayor Bob Filner.

Several voters interviewed at a coffee shop in San Diego’s La Jolla area, the upscale coastal neighborhood where Peters lives, said the allegations won’t influence their votes, barring new developments.

“No one is squeaky clean. As long as you do your job, it’s none of my business,” said Erich Garcia, a 27-year-old software salesman who recently switched from Democrat to independent.

Jack Clancy, a 73-year-old retired property manager, has been undecided but is leaning toward Peters because he feels a stronger personal connection. The Republican says the allegations surrounding DeMaio haven’t influenced him and that the district attorney’s decision not to seek criminal charges only reaffirmed his conviction that the drama surrounding the GOP candidate is irrelevant.

“It’s too bad all this dirt is coming out,” Clancy said as he watched a neighbor’s dog and waited for his coffee.

DeMaio moved to San Diego about a decade ago from Washington, D.C., when San Diego was mired in a deep fiscal crisis. He quickly gained a following by criticizing pensions for city workers – but the approach drew the ire of municipal labor unions in the nation’s eighth-largest city. As a one-term Republican city councilman, DeMaio lost by only five percentage points in the 2012 mayoral election in a city that voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

DeMaio still won a loyal following. But he also has alienated people, including some social conservatives, leaders of the gay community and his own employees. Jerry Sanders, a popular former Republican mayor who now leads the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, joked in 2012 that DeMaio would probably take credit for the weeds that the then-mayor pulled from his lawn, reflecting a common criticism that DeMaio tends to upstage others even if they deserve the credit.

Despite the recent flare-ups, DeMaio’s supporters are sticking by him. The campaign arm for House Republicans unveiled a new television advertisement it was launching Tuesday portraying him as a reformer and Peters as a big government spender. House Speaker John Boehner attended a fundraiser on his behalf earlier this month.

At a press conference Tuesday, DeMaio sought to move beyond the allegations and focus attention on issues such as the economy and the nation’s response to Ebola.

Peters’ campaign has tried to stay above the fray.

DeMaio declined to shake Peters’ hand at the beginning of an appearance together, confronting his opponent about whether a campaign strategy book taken during the burglary at his campaign headquarters had been delivered to the Peters camp.

“In early June, information was forwarded to our campaign, which we immediately turned over to police,” Peters said in response.

There has been no indication that Peters’ campaign was in any way connected to the break-in.

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Man sues Illinois gubernatorial candidate for harassment

A former employee in Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office has filed a lawsuit alleging the Republican gubernatorial candidate made inappropriate sexual advances and regularly forced him to do political work on state time.

Ed Michalowski, a former lawyer and director in Rutherford’s office, alleged in the lawsuit that Rutherford’s sexual advances began in April 2011, shortly after Michalowski began working in the office.

The lawsuit also alleged Rutherford asked Michalowski to set up meetings with potential donors for campaign contributions while he was working for the state.

Rutherford has denied any wrongdoing, holding a Jan. 31 news conference to announce that an unnamed employee had raised “allegations of misconduct” against him. Initially, Rutherford said he couldn’t detail the allegations because they were a personnel matter, but he later confirmed they involved harassment and political coercion.

“I know the accusations are completely false,” Rutherford told The Associated Press last week.

He said an independent investigation would clear his name and accused a Republican gubernatorial rival, businessman Bruce Rauner, of being behind the accusations in an attempt to undermine Rutherford’s governor campaign. Rauner has denied the allegation. Michalowski also has said his motivation is not political.

Michalowski submitted a letter of resignation to Rutherford’s office last week. The lawsuit names both the treasurer and his chief of staff, Kyle Ham.

In the lawsuit, Michalowski alleged that during an April 2011 overnight retreat at Rutherford’s Chenoa home, Rutherford entered the bedroom where Michalowski was staying and grabbed his genital area. Michalowski alleged he pushed Rutherford away, and later told Rutherford’s chief of staff about the incident, but the aide told him he would have “job security.”

The suit also claims Rutherford made Michalowski do work for his own campaign as well as for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Rutherford was the Illinois chairman for the Romney campaign.

Rutherford, a former state lawmaker, was elected to the office in 2010. He’s among four candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor in the March primary. The others are Rauner and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard.

Rutherford said his office conducted an internal investigation into the allegations and they showed no merit, but because he’s treasurer, he was launching an outside investigation with independent attorneys and consultants. Rutherford has said he would tell his side once the investigation was complete.

“What I have asked is ‘Please do it as expeditiously as possible,'” Rutherford told AP last week. “I absolutely want this thing out there as soon as possible and as public as possible.”

Meanwhile, Rutherford has focused on linking the matter to Rauner and questioning the timing of the employee’s allegations weeks ahead of a competitive primary. Rutherford claimed the employee’s attorney was linked to Rauner’s campaign and offered $300,000 to “walk away and keep it under wraps.”

Rauner has said the attorney was paid a one-time fee for a lease agreement but the allegations are untrue and “ridiculous.”

Rutherford has said he has a 22-year record in public office without a single previous complaint against him.

“When that was presented to me, I said ‘That is unacceptable … We’re going to go public with this,'” he told AP last week. “This is something I want to have total transparency on.”

Celebrity cook Paula Deen says she used racial slurs but does not tolerate prejudice

Celebrity cook Paula Deen said while being questioned in a discrimination lawsuit that she has used racial slurs in the past but insisted she and her family do not tolerate prejudice.

The 66-year-old Food Network star and Savannah, Ga., restaurant owner was peppered with questions about her racial attitudes in a May deposition by a lawyer for Lisa Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, own the restaurant. Jackson sued them last year, saying she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.

According to a transcript of the deposition, filed this week in U.S. District Court, an attorney for Jackson asked Deen if she has ever used the N-word.

“Yes, of course,” Deen replied, though she added: “It’s been a very long time.”

Asked to give an example, Deen recalled the time she worked as a bank teller in southwest Georgia in the 1980s and was held at gunpoint by a robber. The gunman was a black man, Deen told the attorney, and she thought she used the slur when talking about him after the holdup. “Probably in telling my husband,” she said.

Deen said she may have also used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants, but she couldn’t recall specifics.

“But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on,” Deen said. “Things have changed since the `60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do.”

William Franklin, Deen’s attorney, said the celebrity was looking forward to her day in court.

“Contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable,” he said in a statement.

Attorneys for Jackson did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Plenty of people were already judging Deen on social media sites. One of the top trending topics on Twitter was (hash)PaulasBestDishes, the name of her Food Network show. Tweets used the tag along with satirical names for recipes such as “Massa-Roni and Cheese,” “Lettuce From a Birmingham Jail,” and “Key Lynch Pie.”

Station spokeswoman Julie Halpin said in a statement: “The Food Network does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

The civil suit was filed in March 2012 in Chatham County Superior Court and was transferred to federal court a few months later. Deen and Hiers have both denied the allegations made by Jackson, who is white.

“Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is, Deen said in her deposition. “It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”

Known for her sometimes ribald sense of humor as well as her high-calorie Southern recipes, Deen acknowledged in her deposition to sometimes telling jokes. She seemed to struggle when asked if she considered jokes using the N-word to be “mean.”

“That’s kind of hard,” Deen said. “Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. … They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know – I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, also pressed Deen to explain whether she had once suggested that all black waiters be hired for her brother’s 2007 wedding.

Deen said she once mentioned the idea to her personal assistant and Jackson but immediately dismissed it. Deen said she had been inspired by an upscale Southern restaurant she and her husband had visited in another state.

“The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive,” Deen said. “And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret (it).”

Asked if she used the N-word to describe those waiters, Deen replied: “No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.”

Gay ads, women’s panties, wooden penis part of sexual harassment suit

A Cook County, Ill., man has filed a lawsuit alleging that his boss fired him after he complained about co-workers leaving gay ads, women’s underwear, a wooden penis and tampons on his desk.

Antonio Melone filed the suit in Cook County, naming the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority as the defendant.

Melone worked from MPEA from 1996 to 2011, when he says he was fired after complaining that two co-workers sexually harassed him, according to the Courthouse News Service.

The two men, according to the complaint, called Melone names and made harassing comments about his sexual orientation and ethnicity.

The complaint alleges that the co-workers humiliated Melone by leaving homoerotic photographs, gay ads, women’s underwear, pacifiers, a jar of Vaseline, a wooden dildo and other items on his desk.

Melone complained to a foreman but said no effective action was taken.

He complained again in June 2011, telling the foreman he was being sexually harassed.

That month, the foreman told him he was fired but failed to explain why.

Melone, according to CNS, is asking for reinstatement, restitution of lost wages and punitive damages for sexual harassment, age discrimination, retaliatory discharge and emotional distress.