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Textbook Case of Sexual Harassment

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A company owner who was arrested for viewing child pornography on his office computer returned to work and said he "would immediately terminate" whoever had reported him, two former employees say in Federal Court. The man "continued to view adult and child pornography in view of his female employees," and was arrested again and pleaded guilty to child porn charges, but not until he had inflicted severe distress upon his employees, the two women say.

The women sued Sabol and Rice Inc., a construction equipment sales company, and their former boss, David Christopher Robertson. Robertson will be sentenced on Nov. 15 for possession of child pornography, according to the complaint.

Franki Chipman, a sales associate, and Kristall Butters, an administrative assistant, say they suffered repeated sexual harassment, including "offensive and unwelcome sexually explicit comments, sexual propositions, and sexual groping and fondling." The plaintiffs say that they and a co-worker, also a woman, were "forced to see adult and child pornography" at work and told that the sexual harassment they suffered was "harmless."

Butters claims that after she was hired, "two other female employees at Sabol warned Ms. Butters to 'clear her throat' upon entering Mr. Robertson's office because of what he may be viewing on his computer."

She adds, "it was necessary for Ms. Butters to go into Mr. Robertson's office multiple times a day so that Mr. Robertson could sign invoices, checks, purchase orders, and other documents." But "Despite audibly notifying Mr. Robertson of her arrival at his office door, Mr. Robertson did not always hide what he was viewing, and Ms. Butters was often forced to see adult and child pornography upon entering his office."

Chipman says that while she walked past Robertson's door, she "saw him viewing computer images of an extremely offensive sexual nature, including both adult and child pornography."

Chipman adds: "Also increasingly unbearable to Ms. Chipman was the fact that Mr. Robertson's viewing of child pornography at the office had escalated and she was forced to see such offensive images on an almost daily basis."

Both women say sexual harassment was rampant at the office. Chipman says a credit manager "sexually assaulted Ms. Chipman by grabbing her breasts when she passed his office."

When she reported the attack to her immediate supervisor, she says, the man "stated that he had 'thought of doing that myself but did not know if I'd get slapped or graded.'"

When the credit manager assaulted her again, by grabbing her butt, and she reported it to her supervisor again, he called it "harmless," Chipman says.

Chipman says she had to take medical leave "due to a pinched nerve related to the stress of the hostile work environment and sexual harassment." Even that didn't stop the harassment, she says. While she was on leave at home, she claims the same supervisor who had called the harassment harmless "sent several sexually explicit text messages and instant messages to Ms. Chipman's daughter."

She adds: "As Sabol has neither a human resources department nor a single person responsible for personnel issues, Ms. Chipman had no choice but to report the conduct to Mr. Robertson despite the fact that he was often looking at child and adult pornography at the office."

She says Robertson "did not terminate or otherwise discipline" either of the men who harassed her and her daughter.

"In or about May of 2009, Mr. Robertson was arrested at the office by federal marshals for possessing and viewing child pornography, and law enforcement officials confiscated Mr. Robertson's office computer pursuant to the arrest," the complaint states. "Upon Mr. Robertson's return to Sabol's offices, he informed receptionist Naomi Hatch that as soon as he discovered who had reported his sexual activities to the authorities, he would immediately terminate that person's employment."

Chipman and Butters say they were told that Sabol "was eliminating" their positions after Robertson returned. Chipman says she was fired July 23, Butters on Aug. 28. Sabol hired new employees for both positions, the women say.

"Thereafter, Mr. Robertson continued to view adult and child pornography in view of his female employees and was arrested again in or about September of 2009, for possessing and viewing child pornography," according to the complaint. "On Sept. 16, 2010, Mr. Robertson was indicted on federal charges of Possession of Child Pornography.

"On April 19, 2010, Mr. Robertson pled guilty to Count I of the indictment, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(b), Possession of Child Pornography.

"On November 15, 2010, Mr. Robertson is scheduled to be sentenced in federal district court on the aforementioned federal crimes."

The women seek punitive damages for wrongful discharge, loss of earning capacity, and severe emotional pain, distress and injury.

They are represented by Roger Hoole with Hoole & King of Salt Lake City.

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