Two women involved in a sexual harassment case that occurred when they were employees of the Massachusetts State Police, a supervisor as the alleged harasser and a subordinate as the alleged victim, both claim that they received inadequate protection from the state and that the system is set up to protect only itself.
According to the attorney representing the subordinate, the solution to the problem is to create a separate office within the government to defend state employees accused of sexual harassment in order to resolve an institutional conflict of interest. As the system is set up now, he explains, the mandate of the attorney general’s office to defend state agencies results in shielding alleged harassers from consequence even as the office is simultaneously sworn to protect citizens from wrongdoing.
The conflict between the two employees began in 2008. The subordinate worked for the state police at that time as an administrative assistant when the alleged harasser became her new supervisor. The subordinate claims that her boss made humiliating, sexually charged comments towards her, creating a hostile work environment, then retaliated against her after she complained, allegedly going so far as to physically threaten her. Each woman describes a particular event in which the supervisor posited a scenario in which her employee could sustain an injury on the job, but while the subordinate interpreted it as a threat, the supervisor maintains that she was merely expressing concern for her employee’s safety.
After the subordinate decided to file a lawsuit, the situation became so toxic for both women that each requested that the state police transfer the subordinate to a different department, but the agency refused both requests. The supervisor claims that the state police wanted the situation to go away and told her she simply had to deal with it.
Meanwhile, in 2012, following several years of litigation, the subordinate settled her sexual harassment and retaliation suit with the attorney general’s office. In exchange for the subordinate resigning her position, thereby foregoing her pension, the court granted her a settlement of $300,000, of which she has received a net sum of about $60,000 after paying legal fees and taxes.
The story is part of a familiar pattern within the Massachusetts legal system. Settlement of sexual harassment suits after they have dragged on for years, with no one admitting fault, is the way that many cases conclude, and the court has ordered the state to pay more than $6 million in harassment cases involving state employees since 2012. Nevertheless, victims of sexual harassment have a right to seek justice and may find it helpful to consult with an attorney.