City sued for sexual harrassment

Former harbors department worker wants $350,000

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2004

A woman who resigned from the city's harbors department last year claims hostility toward women in her department forced her out, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Elizabeth Leisure seeks at least $350,000 in damages. The suit alleges the harbormaster at the time lied to her about department vacancies and told her women were only good for "scrubbing toilets," while he "downloaded and distributed pornography" and "told sexual jokes to staff."

Juneau attorney Douglas K. Mertz wrote that harassment, discrimination and a hostile environment led to physical health problems and severe emotional distress for Leisure, making her resignation involuntary.

The suit alleges 10 counts: discrimination on the basis of sex under municipal, state and federal law; wrongful termination; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; violation of duty of good faith and fair dealing; negligent hiring and retention of Leisure's supervisor; discrimination against a worker's compensation recipient and denial of equal protection under the city's personnel code.

"... Ms. Leisure and other women in the department were subjected to a pervasive and serious atmosphere of sexual innuendo, sexual jokes and a hostile environment based on gender and sex."

Douglas Mertz

Plaintiff's attorney

The harbormaster who supervised Leisure, Chuck Wescott, is not named as a party to the suit, although he is identified in the complaint.

Wescott resigned his post in March. City Ports Director John Stone said he understands Wescott has left Alaska. The Empire could not locate Wescott for comment.

City Attorney John Hartle said Friday afternoon that the city had not yet been served with the suit, although he was aware of some of its claims.

He said he could not yet respond to individual points because he has not had time to look into them thoroughly. He will do so in the response to the complaint that will be due 20 days after the city is served.

"There will be aspects (to the complaint) we will deny, but I can't say what," he said.

Wescott lived in Juneau for 28 years. Stone said he made improvements to small boat harbors and enforced rules as harbormaster. He also said unfair labor practice complaints filed against Wescott factored into the resignation.

Two complaints scheduled to be heard at the time of Wescott's resignation did not concern Leisure.

According to her suit, she came to work for the city in 2000. She injured her back doing heavy labor in 2001 and requested reassignment to duties that did not involve heavy lifting.

The suit alleges that Wescott put her on maintenance duties that involved cleaning toilets and emptying bear-proof containers. The bags in the containers exceeded the 35-pound weight restriction Leisure's doctor had prescribed for her.

When Leisure applied for a security position advertised in 2002, Wescott told her it was a "man's position," the suit alleged. She was given the seasonal security job after appealing to Wescott's supervisor, but she received a lower rate of pay.

Wescott told her she did not meet the qualifications when she reapplied for the position in 2003. The suit claims that normally she would have been offered the seasonal job automatically because she had filled it the previous year.

Leisure instead took a lower-paying clerical position in the harbor office, after being told the security position was filled, although Wescott interviewed other candidates, the suit alleges.

"During her time working for CBJ Harbors Department, Ms. Leisure and other women in the department were subjected to a pervasive and serious atmosphere of sexual innuendo, sexual jokes and a hostile environment based on gender and sex," Mertz wrote.

He wrote that Wescott's actions concerning Leisure's efforts to obtain the security job "were consistent with his practices of allocating jobs to friends and denying them to persons on an arbitrary and illegal basis, such as on the basis of hair length and gender."

The suit also claims that Leisure's attempts to resolve the issues by complaining to the city manager's office personnel department were unsuccessful.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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