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Woman Can’t Sue Boss Over Long-Term Affair

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A woman who sued her boss for sexual harassment after he filed for custody of the children their long-term relationship produced, cannot pursue claims against her former employer, a federal judge ruled.

Sharon Dianne Waltz worked as a licensed clinical psychologist for defendant Birmingham Healthcare Inc., and after working late one night, she says, CEO Jonathan Dunning took her back to his office and "proceeded to take off [her] clothes and have sex with [her]."

Although Waltz testified she initially resisted the advances, she said she ultimately gave in and started having an affair with the married Dunning.

Waltz later testified that shortly after their first encounter, Dunning told her, "You're mine, no one can have you except for me; if I can't have you, no one can; you're going to be my bitch; a king needs a queen."

She claims she was "afraid" because Dunning "choked her, pulled her hair, and held her down." She testified that although she told him several times she did not want to sleep with him; it was easier to have sex with Dunning than have him get upset with her.

According to court documents, Waltz did not complain to anyone at her job about being sexually harassed, and though she resigned because "she did not want to have that kind of ... work environment any longer," she returned to work a couple of weeks later.

And Waltz finally left her job with Birmingham Healthcare for good, she did so to work for Synergy Medical Solutions Inc. - another company started by Dunning.

During the next nine years, Waltz had two children with Dunning, they referred to each other as husband and wife, Waltz wore a wedding band, she lived in a house Dunning bought for her, and they took vacations as a family, court documents say.

Waltz says when she eventually stopped taking trips with Dunning and ended their physical relationship, he filed a complaint in family court seeking custody of their two children. She responded three months later by filing her sexual harassment claim against Dunning, Birmingham Healthcare and Synergy.

In their motion for summary judgment, the two companies argue that Waltz did not lodge an EEOC complaint against Dunning while working for them and she is now barred by the statute of limitations.

U.S. District Judge John E. Ott granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment last week, citing Waltz's two children, the wedding ring, text messages, the family vacations and the fact that Waltz never filed a complaint until the custody action was filed. "While Dunning's conduct was "unwelcome" at the outset and possibly for some time thereafter, the facts, even when construed most favorably to Plaintiff, demonstrate that the relationship later became consensual and it had been that way for many years," Ott wrote.

Ott also found Synergy cannot be held "vicariously liable" for Dunning's actions because Waltz did not report any harassment and the company "cannot be held liable for failing to take steps to rectify it."

Ott noted that Waltz "voluntarily" followed Dunning to Synergy and at that point, the relationship was consensual.

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