SAN JOSE (CN) – A woman who claims the Army fired her for reporting that a superior texted her photos of his penis may proceed with her claims, a federal magistrate ruled.
Luydmila Starkey sued Secretary of the Army John McHugh in Federal Court in 2014. She claimed the Army allowed her supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Lord, “to sexually harass her, including sending sexually explicit texts, phone messages and pictures of her supervisor’s penis, making the submission of these sexual overtures a condition of her employment.”
Starkey “complained and provided defendant with copies of the texts and sexually explicit images,” the lawsuit states.
She claimed the Army “never took any action” to hold Lord accountable and allowed him to resign without a proper investigation.
“Thereafter, defendant subjected plaintiff to reprisal for making an EEO complaint, up to and including termination of her federal employment,” Starkey said. “Defendant’s repeated refusal to comply with the law and its own policies, and its ratification of ongoing discrimination, harassment and retaliation against plaintiff forms the basis of this action.”
In 2011, because of her pregnancy and a back injury she had suffered at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Missouri, Starkey was assigned to light duty, which involved working with Lord, who is not named as a defendant.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal on Sept. 9 refused to grant the Army’s motion for summary judgment.
McHugh claimed that Starkey did not present sufficient evidence that she reported the harassment, as required by Title VII, nor sufficient evidence of a retaliatory hostile work environment or retaliatory termination.
Grewal was unmoved, saying “genuine issues of material fact” remain.
“Even if Lord was not Starkey’s supervisor, a reasonable jury could find that the Army is nevertheless liable based on its negligence in controlling her working conditions,” Grewal wrote.
Grewal said Starkey may have acted reasonably by not initially “rocking the boat.”
“When the harassment began, she was only a trainee, and her immediate supervisor was her harasser’s husband,” the ruling states. “She may well have acted reasonably by not rocking the boat so early in her career. In fact, her husband, who had been a law enforcement officer for over 15 years, advised her not to do so. Instead, she told Lord to stop, and her husband unofficially interceded.”
Starkey took action after receiving the nude photo.
“Once Lord’s conduct escalated from verbal and written harassment to sending her the nude photo, she took action within a week,” Grewal found. “Whether this course of action was reasonable under the circumstances is an issue for the jury to decide.”
The parties could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
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