Judge Rules University Did Not Protect Housekeepers

By Ran Northam Posted April 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm

CHAPEL HILL – While UNC tends to the early stages of its newest investigation, a ruling was released late last week in another case that alleges sexual harassment.

According to the News and Observer, Administrative Judge Melissa Lassiter ruled Friday that the University failed to protect a housekeeper from sexual harassment and retaliation.

In early 2011, numerous employees in the housekeeping department complained of poor treatment, with incidents ranging from sexual harassment to open threats. After the Washington-based PRM Consulting Firm conducted hundreds of interview of the staff, it found that the department’s practices “created a culture with employee morale issues, lack of trust, and overall frustration.” Housekeeping director Bill Burston stepped down in September amid the controversy; in December 2011, former assistant director Tonya Sell also resigned amidst allegations of verbally abusing her employees.

One housekeeper at the forefront of the investigation is Maria Isabel Prudencio-Arias; she claimed to be a victim of sexual harassment and says she was punished after she brought that to the administrations attention. Prudencio-Arias still works at UNC.

Judge Lassiter awarded Prudencio-Arias attorney fees and said the University should meet her medical needs with a job that suits her. Her lawyer told the N&O that she will be seeking $160,000 in damages for lost personal leave, depression and emotional stress.

The ruling now goes in front of the State Personnel Commission, which will make a final ruling.

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