The Flexible Packaging Association described its recent legal victory in its sexual harassment lawsuit against its former president as "justice prevailed."
We don't see it that way.
First, we need to say that wading into an almost decade-long sexual harassment legal battle is not a typical topic for a Plastics News commentary.
But simply put, the association so far has won some of the key legal battles on procedural grounds, not on merits. Portraying the case as "justice prevailed" seems to us to ignore disturbing evidence.
The case began in 1993, when former FPA employee Gaye Lively filed suit in Washington against the association and its former president, Glenn Braswell. A jury heard the case in 1996, agreed with Lively and awarded her almost $1 million.
But the trial judge tossed out the verdict, and an Appeals Court in the District of Columbia recently decided, in a split 2-1 vote, to uphold the trial judge's decision.
The trial judge ruled there was insufficient evidence on two counts: retaliation and unequal pay. But the judge said there was enough evidence on the claims of creating a hostile work place and inflicting emotional distress. Those claims were tossed out because a one-year statute of limitations expired.
That's key. And that's why it's worthwhile to review some of the evidence in the case.
As we have previously reported, the appellate court opinion said that Lively and three other female employees testified they were subjected to sexually offensive comments, sometimes regularly.
The court record also includes memos from former FPA board members critical of Braswell's conduct. One example: A 1989 memo from FPA's chairman said Braswell is a "chauvinist" with a "tendency to demean women and their abilities." The court said the FPA board took the unusual step of prohibiting Braswell from "making critical comments about Ms. Lively, or disciplining her" from 1990 to 1992. Braswell has repeatedly declined the opportunity to comment on these allegations.
There's more in the court record. You can read the Appellate Court's opinion at http://www.dcbar.org/dcca/pdf/97cv128.pdf.
We'd like to be clear that we support FPA as an organization. Its new president, Marla Donahue, took over last year and has made it more effective and lowered dues to get more members. FPA does good regulatory work. Certainly Donahue and the association's current leaders did not create this situation and probably resent having it dumped on them. We understand that.
But we cannot understand FPA labeling its most recent victory as "justice prevailed." The testimony from several employees, combined with memos from FPA board members, leads us to conclude that many of the allegations have merit.
We think the Appeals Court in Washington should reconsider its split decision, as it is being asked to do by Lively's lawyers. FPA at this point seems only to be trying to avoid paying out a legal judgment, as many groups probably would. But that shouldn't be confused with justice.