The Massachusetts Appeals Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office was liable in a sexual harassment case involving a former employee.
Former Bristol County Corrections Officer Lori Gonsalves had alleged that she had been sexually harassed by a male co-worker, and that supervisors failed to intervene when she complained.
Gonsalves, who resigned before charges were filed, was awarded $61,700 in back pay and $100,000 in punitive damages.
The court rejected department arguments that the Sheriff’s Office was not liable because it had no knowledge of the complaints.
According to Southcoasttoday.com, the court wrote: “On Gonsalves’ first day of work in September of 1997, Raposa told her that she must know someone or must be sleeping with someone to have been hired and that if she had sex with him he could assure her advancement.
“Raposa asked her to attend a political function without her boyfriend and to fulfill his fantasy by having sex with him while wearing a nurse’s uniform.
“Raposa continued making sexual inquiries in the summer of 1998 when Gonsalves moved to a new job and in the spring of 1999 when Gonsalves became pregnant by another officer,” said the ruling dated Aug. 23.
“In 2001, Raposa began calling Gonsalves multiple times per week to tell her that he would be her training officer that spring. During training in May, he singled her out in front of the group by disclosing her previous relationship with a correctional officer, putting his hands on her shoulder and saying, ‘Let’s learn from Lori’s mistakes … don’t (expletive) where you eat. Don’t date anybody in the workplace.'”
Contrary to the testimony of the Sheriff’s Department, the court wrote, Gonsalves made numerous reports of Raposa’s sexual harassment to superiors “who utterly failed to remedy the situation and, indeed, sought to cover it up.”
Hodgson told The Standard-Times that he stands by the defense that the department had no knowledge of these events until after Gonsalves had left and filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
“She went out before we even knew about the complaint,” he said. The first he heard about it was when the MCAD issued its complaint, he said.
Department employees are given strict instructions about sexual harassment policies and informed that charges can be ruinous, Hodgson said.
“Any kind of harassment and you are subject to being sued and losing your house and everything you have,” he said.