WASHINGTON — A harassment lawsuit against the Flexible Packaging Association and its president, Glenn Braswell, probably will have a court hearing soon to examine whether a judge improperly tossed out a $1 million verdict against the association.
Former FPA employee Gaye Lively sued FPA and Braswell in 1993, accusing Braswell of creating a hostile work environment, regularly making demeaning comments about women and hiring and taking photos of a male stripper in the office for Lively's birthday.
A jury awarded Lively $993,000 in mid-1996, but a Washington judge set aside the verdict later that year. The judge said the one-year statute of limitations had expired on the hostile workplace claim, and that Lively had not presented evidence supporting her claim of unequal pay.
A Washington appeals court said last month it plans to hear Lively's appeal of the trial judge's decision by May, although no date has been set, said Lawrence Eiser, a Silver Spring, Md., lawyer representing Lively.
The trial judge, Geoffrey Alprin, wrote in his Dec. 26, 1996, order that no evidence was given that any harassment took place in the 12 months before Lively filed her December 1993 suit.
The judge wrote that Lively was terminated in July 1993, after she had not been to work in seven months because of an on-the-job hip injury and that she had been given advance notice to return or be fired.
But Alprin added that if he was wrong about interpreting the statute of limitations, then ``the court would conclude that the evidence at trial, while not overwhelming, was sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict on the hostile work environment and emotional distress claims.''
Braswell declined comment.
Lively also presented several memos written by former FPA chairmen who expressed concern about Braswell's management.
A Jan. 9, 1989, written statement from then-Chairman David McFarland, delivered to Braswell at an FPA compensation committee meeting, said ``you are a chauvinist.''
``You appear to have a tendency to demean women and their abilities,'' the statement said.
Another memo, written by FPA's chairman in 1991, John Woolford, said FPA was prepared to make a change in presidents. FPA leaders talked to Braswell about Lively and said they were concerned about ``his tendency to over-manage certain aspects of his interpersonal involvement with some employees at the expense of managing an organization.''
Braswell later apologized and said it would not happen again.
Jeffrey Lammers, current FPA chairman and vice president of finance for Duralam Inc. in Appleton, Wis., said the judge ``basically found that the association was innocent ... the evidence did not indicate the verdict the jury had given was correct.''
Lammers said FPA surveyed staff in 1996 or 1997 and did not find a hostile work environment.
He said Braswell is an effective leader and has been able to retain high-quality employees, provide good forums for suppliers and converters to meet and is skilled at understanding Washington.
Braswell has been president of FPA since 1986. He was paid $171,890 in 1997.