MANHATTAN (CN) – Merrill Lynch cannot be held liable in a former employee’s lawsuit that charges the firm with trying to sweep her claims of rape under the rug as part of pervasive culture of sexism and hostility toward women in the workplace.
A woman who worked as a senior specialist for Merrill Lynch filed suit last year, claiming that the company blew off her report that she had been raped by a company director, Kenneth Kim. Until Kim was “arrested for rape” and “indicted for rape,” she claims Merrill planned to simply put him on paid leave and let him return to work at a desk 10 feet from her own. About a year after her attack, Kim pleaded guilty to second-degree coercion, a misdemeanor that essentially says he scared someone into doing something that the person did not want to do.
In a 13-page summary-judgment order, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said Merrill Lynch took the appropriate steps to deal with the initial report of rape by placing Kim and his alleged victim on paid leave, and firing Kim when he pleaded guilty.
After her paid leave expired about five months later, the victim reported a hostile work environment to Merrill Lynch and said she would not return. Merrill Lynch investigated those claims and concluded that its work environment was “collegial, professional and respectful,” according to the report as quoted by Judge Berman.
In her complaint, the former senior specialist described how one director received a promotion after he grabbed a female subordinate’s buttocks, how she overheard a male co-worker use the C-word, and she endured repeated sexually suggestive remarks from male supervisors and food vendors in the cafeteria.
Berman wrote that these were “isolated incidents” for which Merrill Lynch could not be held accountable. While a “single extraordinarily severe incident” can sustain hostile work environment claims, Berman found that Merrill Lynch could not be held accountable for the alleged rape.
“First, Kim was not Plaintiff’s supervisor and nowhere does Plaintiff allege that Kim had the power to hire or fire her, or alter her hours, benefits, or any other condition of employment,” Berman wrote. “Second, Merrill cannot be held liable, in these circumstances, for what transpired at the off-site premises social event and, thereafter, at Plaintiff’s apartment. … Third, there is no evidence to suggest that Merrill failed to provide a ‘reasonable avenue for complaint’ or ‘knew of the harassment but did nothing about it’ …
“Rather, the record reflects that Plaintiff was aware of Merrill’s complaint procedure and Merrill’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies; that prior to the alleged assault, no complaints were filed with Merrill against Kim; and that upon receiving notice of the incident, Merrill placed Kim on leave until he was ultimately terminated,” Berman wrote.
Attorneys for the Merrill Lynch employee who filed the lawsuit were not immediately available to comment.