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Navy Worker Files Suit Claiming Sexual Harassment : Military: Woman says superiors failed to act when she told them about alleged incidents by three men.

March 06, 1992|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Navy's problems with sexual harassment allegations continued Thursday when a female employee at the Miramar Naval Air Station announced that she has sued three male co-workers who she claims subjected her to unwanted sexual advances for nearly two years.

In an interview Thursday, Connie J. Kent, 35, said the harassment by the three men, each a civilian employee as she is, drove her to seek psychological care. Kent, the single mother of three said the psychologist has cleared her to return to work, but not to the same job where the harassment allegedly occurred.

The lawsuit naming James Holbrook, Ed Segismar and Tom Humphrey as defendants was filed Feb. 25 in U.S. District Court in San Diego. Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III also was named as a defendant, because the lawsuit was also filed against the Navy.

Kent said Thursday that the three engaged in unrelenting daily harassment from October, 1990, to July, 1991, when they worked with her at the Navy exchange on the base.

Kent said Holbrook, who supervised her, and the other two men, refused to stop the harassment and instead joined the other men. According to the lawsuit, Holbrook told Kent that "Humphrey was just having fun" when she complained about "Humphrey's harassing conduct."

The harassment described in the lawsuit ranged from persistent requests for sex and grabbing by Holbrook and Humphrey to Segismar's "descriptions of and gesticulations showing the size of his private parts."

In addition, the lawsuit said the men constantly commented about Kent's unmarried status and repeatedly attempted to kiss and fondle her.

Going public with her complaints was not easy, Kent said. In between quiet sobs, the woman said she is comforted by the support of her ex-husband, a Navy enlisted man who encouraged her to sue, and family members in her native Tennessee.

Neither Humphrey nor Segismar could be reached for comment Thursday. Holbrook did not return messages left at his residence. A base spokesman said that Cmdr. John M. Croll, commanding officer of the Miramar exchange, declined to comment on the suit because it is in litigation.

Additional inquiries were referred by Miramar personnel to the Naval Exchange Service Command at Staten Island, N.Y, but officials there could not be reached for comment.

In Thursday's sometimes emotional interview, Kent described frustrations of almost two years in dealing with the alleged unwanted advances.

"I was so preoccupied with it and dreading going to work the next day that I couldn't sleep," she said. "After I complained about it and went through the management ladder, the harassment increased."

Supervisor after supervisor failed to act on her complaints, Kent said. Both female supervisors and co-workers offered little support, she added.

In December, 1990, when Kent complained to a woman supervisor about Humphrey's conduct, the supervisor told Kent that she "should be flattered by the attention," the lawsuit said.

The harassment got so unbearable that Kent went to a psychologist, she said. According to court documents, Kent's psychologist recommended on Sept. 4, 1991, that she not return to work until the Navy transferred her to another job. Court records showed the psychologist suggested to the Navy that Kent be put in a job that had a "more balanced male-female population."

But the Navy has so far not placed Kent in another job, according to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, she is living off her savings and loans from her father because her claim for workers compensation benefits were denied, Kent said.

Shortly before she stopped working in October, 1991, Kent said she went through severe bouts of depression. A psychiatrist prescribed the controversial drug Prozac to combat that depression.

"The depression was starting to get worse. The doctors couldn't get me out of it. I was driving around at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. because I couldn't sleep," Kent said.

Although she followed Navy policy by trying to resolve the problem with her immediate supervisors, Kent said she received a jolt on Jan. 27, 1992, when Croll informed her in a three-page letter that her discrimination complaint was rejected because she had failed to follow proper procedures by bringing each of the allegations to the attention of an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor within 30 days of each occurrence.

Kent said that none of the supervisors she complained to advised her to file additional complaints with the EEO counselors.

"She tried to resolve it at the local level, and it came back to bite her," said Paula Rotenberg, one of two attorneys representing Kent. "It didn't work in this case . . . . The most distressing thing is that they retaliated against her after she began complaining."

According to the lawsuit, the retaliation included threats to fire Kent if she pressed on with her complaints.

"It has been an interesting few months for the Navy in terms of sexual harassment," said Miramar spokesman Doug Sayers, who said he was not authorized to speak for the Navy exchange because it falls under a New York command.

The harassment controversy began in September when a female officer and civilian women complained that they were sexually harassed by naval aviators during a raucous Tailhook Assn. convention in Las Vegas. Rear Adm. John W. Snyder Jr. was fired from his post at the prestigious Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center in Maryland for failing to take action on a complaint by the female officer.

In December a controversial study of sexual harassment of Navy female officers by retired Navy Cmdr. Kay Krohne caught the attention of Navy officials in Washington. On Feb. 20, less than a month after The Times ran an article about the study, the Navy announced a toughening of sexual harassment regulations in an attempt to shake a reputation for allowing such conduct.

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