A former employee of two plastics companies in Garden City, Mo., has been awarded $101,000 after a federal jury ruled that she was a victim of workplace sexual harassment.
A jury in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., ruled Aug. 24 that two companies with the same ownership - bottle maker Plastics Packaging Concept Inc. and Garden City Plastics Equipment and Supply Co. - failed to prevent and correct the harassment by two supervisors despite repeated complaints from the employee, Cindy Johnston, a blow molding equipment operator for Plastics Packaging Concept.
The award, although lower than most Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases involving sexual harassment, is significant because it represents more than 10 percent of the combined sales of the two companies, estimated to be around $950,000. In addition, it is ``very rare'' for such civil cases to be heard by a federal jury, said Robert Johnson, regional attorney for the St. Louis district office of the EEOC that filed the lawsuit.
Both supervisors still are employed, but Johnston was fired in January 2003, seven months after she was hired. She now is working for another plastics company in the area.
In her testimony, Johnston said she was groped and subjected to numerous and continuous comments of a sexual nature, as well as unwanted sexual advances by her immediate supervisor, Michael Kime, who was in charge of blow molding operations. She also testified that graphic pornographic pictures were placed in a Bible she brought to work.
In addition, plant manager Eli Silva also made harassing sexual comments to Johnston when she went to him in an attempt to stop the harassment, said Johnston's private lawyer, Brad Kavanaugh.
``With the amount of evidence about sexual harassment, what stands out as most shocking is the company's total disregard of the complaints, the fact that both supervisors are still there and that the company refused to help her,'' Kavanaugh said.
The companies have until mid-September to appeal the ruling. Calls and e-mails to the owners and several executives at the companies and its legal counsel in the case were not returned.
Plastics Packaging Concept makes bottles, while Garden City buys, sells and refurbishes parts of blow molding equipment.