One former and one current University employee are suing the University and the University’s Board of Regents in federal court over three alleged civil rights violations.
The two plaintiffs are Lorie Biggs, who began work in November in 2010, and Jamie Mercurio, who joined in April 2012. Both worked as patient service associates. The two women claim they were sexually harassed by co-workers, and Biggs also claims a documented disability was not properly accommodated.
The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 13, 2015. It includes one count of sexual harassment under federal law, one count of failure to accommodate in violation of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 and one count of violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a state statute.
The lawsuit alleges that the two women were initially harassed by the same person, fellow employee Richard Page, who took photos of Biggs during work that she “considered to be inappropriate and of sexual nature,” asked Biggs for sex, and sent “sexually explicit” messages about Biggs and Mercurio through his work computer.
Page is listed as a patient registration and insurance specialist in the University’s directory.
Biggs complained to her then-supervisor Jenny Wilson who, according to the lawsuit, told her “there had been previous sexual harassment complaints against Page, but nothing was going to be done about his behavior.”
After Wilson left the University in 2013, Biggs and Mercurio directed their complaints to the new supervisor Donna Navarre, a call center coordinator, in March and April 2013. The lawsuit charges that Navarre did not do anything about the complaints.
“Biggs and Mercurio also complained to Navarre about a coworker who Biggs and Mercurio felt was leering at them,” the lawsuit reads. “Navarre responded by telling Biggs and Mercurio to drop a pen and pick it up in front of the co worker to ‘give him a show.’ “
Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The lawsuit notes that Biggs has a disability that is eligible for coverage within the definition of the ADA. Biggs claims that in September of 2013 she requested a different chair because of a back-related problem and despite filing the appropriate paperwork, did not receive it.
Violation of Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
In January 2014, Biggs was terminated for performance issues and Mercurio was placed on temporary unpaid leave. The lawsuit notes that neither of the two women had been criticized or disciplined prior throughout their employment.
“Biggs was fired because she complained about sexual harassment,” the lawsuit reads. “Mercurio was placed on unpaid leave of absence because she complained about sexual harassment.”
The lawsuit also charges that after Biggs was fired, Navarre mailed her a box of rocks, as well as created a hostile work environment for Mercurio when she returned to her position.
The plaintiffs, represented by Gold Star Law P.C., are currently awaiting the University’s response.
Normally, a defendant has 21 days to respond to this type of lawsuit. However, Caitlin Malhiot, one of the attorneys representing the two plaintiffs, said in an interview Friday they have granted a request from the University for a two-week extension to provide a response to the allegations. Once the response is received, court dates will be set.
Malhiot said resolving the issues through a mutually agreeable settlement without going to court is always preferable, though she added that it’s unclear whether such a settlement exists because the University has not yet replied to the complaint.
“This is a very upsetting issue for my clients,” Malhiot said. “They just want the issue to be done, but at the same time what happened to them is wrong and they do want it to be addressed, they do want justice for that. They do want the compensation that they are owed.”
Malhiot said monetary compensation at some level is always a significant option. Additionally, she noted that Biggs would be willing to consider reinstatement at the University, in a position away from the alleged harassers.
Navarre, Page and Wilson declined requests for comment via e-mail, referring The Michigan Daily to the UMHS Department of Communications.
In response to a request for comment Friday, Mary Masson, a media relations representative for UMHS, said she couldn’t provide any information on a pending litigation.