Winsome Packer, a former staffer for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation, has accused Representative Alcee Hastings (D-Florida) of sexual harassment and discrimination. In a suit filed on March 9, 2011 in Federal Court, Packer alleged that the prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus asked her vulgar questions, bought her inappropriate gifts, and suggested that her career could be advanced if she yielded to his requests to stay in her apartment.
The complaint states: “Mr. Hastings’ intention was crystal clear: He was sexually attracted to Ms. Packer, wanted a sexual relationship with her, and would help her progress her career if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.”
Ms. Packer took her complaints to Fred Turner, the Director of the Commission on Security and Cooperation. Mr. Turner allegedly retaliated against her by denying her travel requests and keeping her away from Commission-related work.
Ms. Packer developed numerous health ailments during the period of harassment and retaliation. Among the symptoms that she claims were “a direct and proximate result of the unlawful sexual harassment,” Ms. Packer asserts she developed:
• High blood pressure
• Coronary artery disease
The 79-year-old Hastings has previously dealt with scandals in his career. In 1998, the House impeached him for perjury and bribery. In 1999, the Senate convicted Mr. Hastings for the same crimes. After the bribery and perjury convictions, the Senate had the option to ban Representative Hastings from seeking public federal office, but opted not to.
Hastings released a statement vigorously denying any allegations of wrongdoing in regard to Ms. Packer. An AP article quoted him saying “I have never sexually harassed anyone…I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me…I will win this lawsuit.”
Irrespective of whether Ms. Packer’s allegations turn out to be true – or even partially correct – her plight illustrates how difficult it can be for women (or men) to confront their superiors about unwanted conduct, behavior, or communications. Whether you work in government, a corporate structure, or a small business environment, you have likely been trained to respect people in authority and to avoid “making waves.”
Unfortunately, many people who experience sexual harassment and retaliation don’t understand their rights or the amount of leverage that can be brought to bear to compel employers to stop bad behavior. Depending on what happened to you or your friend or coworker, you can even collect significant compensation.
For a free case evaluation, look to the experienced and reputable New York City law firm, Joseph & Kirschenbaum. Explore crucial resources on the web at www.jhllp.com, or phone the offices at (212) 688-5640 to schedule a consultation.