Federal Judge: Wyoming Military Department Condoned Sexual Harassment
A former officer of the Wyoming National Guard at Camp Guernsey who quit her job after being sexually harassed by her supervisor won her civil lawsuit against the Wyoming Military Department, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
"Amanda Dykes was subjected to continuous harassment by her direct supervisor on the basis of her gender, and her complaints to those whose job it was to help fell on deaf ears," U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote.
"Her resignation was her only escape from the hostile work environment, and she was therefore constructively discharged from from her employment," Skavdahl wrote. "She is entitled to a back pay award totaling $221,030.62, and she did not fail to mitigate her damages."
The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of Dykes, sued the Wyoming Military Department in March 2016.
The Department of Justice said the harassment began after the woman returned from maternity leave in October 2010. Her immediate supervisor Don Smith -- the former director of the Wyoming Military Department’s Youth Challenge Program -- told her he wanted a personal relationship with her.
Smith's conduct included unwanted emails about his personal life with his then wife; unwanted written expressions of affection including songs and poems; and invasion of her work space to discuss personal issues to the point of interfering with her ability to do her work; and forcing her invent pretexts to get away from him.
Dykes repeatedly rejected his advances and asked him to keep their relationship on a professional level.
She filed complaints, but her supervisors and human resources officers didn't help.
The supervisor’s actions and the department's lack of assistance caused her to resign in September 2011, according to Department of Justice complaint.
The harassment lead to a hostile work environment based on sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Dykes filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found reasonable cause to believe the Military Department discriminated against her.
After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which in turned filed the lawsuit.
The lawsuit sought declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the Wyoming Military Department to implement policies that prevent hostile work environment harassment based on sex. The Department of Justice also sought “make whole” relief, including monetary damages, for Dykes.
In response, the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, which represented the Military Department, said Dykes failed to show Smith created a hostile work environment, she did little to nothing about her alleged issues before she resigned, and she made her case too late.
The Wyoming Attorney General said Smith's behavior may have been annoying, but it wasn't illegal, because the U.S. Supreme Court has stated Title VII "does not create a 'general civility code for the American workplace.'" Socializing, male-on-male horseplay and flirting may be annoying, but they aren't discriminatory. "'To be actionable, harassment must have been so severe or pervasive that it created an objectively hostile or abusive working environment.'"
Without threatening conduct, verbal abuse or obscene language by Smith, Dykes didn't have a case, according to the Wyoming Attorney General.
Skavdahl heard the case in a bench trial in July, and issued his judgment Wednesday.
The Wyoming Military Department is vicariously liable for Smith's misconduct, the department, he wrote.
Dykes was "constructively discharged," meaning she had no other option to deal with the hostile work environment that her supervisors would not address; she was entitled to back pay; and Dykes tried to mitigate the damages she incurred by wanting a comparable job at the camp, Skavdahl wrote
However, the judge declined to grant the request by the Department of Justice to impose injunctive relief on the Wyoming Military Department. Camp Guernsey discharged Smith in March 2012.
During the trial, Skavdahl was assured the Wyoming Military Department had changed its procedures to deal with future harassment claims.
"WMD is, and should be, embarrassed by the multiple failures of (the human resources office) and (a supervisor) in this matter," he wrote. "The Court will decline to order injunctive relief, but WMD is encouraged to provide training to its personnel, in particular to its Human Resources Office, on how to adequately respond and investigate a harassment complaint from an employee."