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Ex-Universal Studios Worker Files Sex Harassment Lawsuit : Courts: Woman's action is the third such case against the company in three years.

March 25, 1994|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A former employee at the MCA/Universal Studios has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, alleging that her male supervisors had groped and fondled her and sought sexual favors during her 14 years of employment.

The $2.5-million suit filed Thursday on behalf of Claire E. Ragge in Los Angeles County Superior Court also alleged that she reported the harassment to officials at Universal but they ignored her. This is the third sex harassment lawsuit filed against the theme park in three years.

As part of an estimated $600,000 settlement of one suit in October, MCA, the parent company of Universal, agreed to hire an independent consultant to review the company's harassment policies.

Ragge's complaint alleges that her harassment continued until December, when she was suspended indefinitely from her bartending job for a complaint by an unidentified customer and for allegedly arguing with an unidentified employee.

"I was being harassed while they were negotiating the settlement in their last case," Ragge, 35, said in an interview. "It obviously didn't change a thing."

Representatives for MCA/Universal Hollywood, which is owned by the Japanese electronics giant Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. Ltd., declined comment.

Ragge's suit alleged the harassment began in 1982 with one of her supervisors, Peter Muendel, fondling her breasts and crotch, embracing her and rubbing his body against her buttocks. It also alleged that another supervisor, Rick R. Storer, regularly grabbed and pinched her buttocks and once told her during a job performance evaluation that she would have received a better rating if her breasts were larger.

Muendel, now the director of food and beverages at the Universal Amphitheatre, and Storer could not be reached for comment at Universal.

The suit alleged that complaints to company officials in 1982 caused the alleged harassers to retaliate against her by cutting back her work hours, withholding bartending supplies in an effort to sabotage her job performance and by isolating her from other women who allegedly endured similar treatment.

She filed a sexual harassment and retaliation charge on March 31, 1993, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Ragge was suspended indefinitely on Dec. 29. "Universal's solution to stopping the problem seems to be to be to just get rid of the women who complain," Ragge said.

In addition to MCA/Universal Studios, 36-page suit names Muendel and Storer as well as several Universal executives.

In February, The Times reported that more than two dozen current and former employees said in interviews that they had witnessed sexual harassment or were subjected to misconduct ranging from unwanted advances to groping and "sandwiching," where two or more men forcibly squeeze a woman between their bodies.

The article cited union and company sources in reporting that at least 23 employees--excluding managers and non-union employees--have been accused of sexual harassment since 1990. Seven were fired or suspended.

Universal officials said the park, which employs 4,000 people each year, had a strong sexual harassment policy in place. The alleged harassers tended to be low-level employees and supervisors.

Ragge's suit comes just six months after MCA paid an estimated $600,000 in September to resolve another sex harassment case involving former employee Wendy-Sue Rosen and two supervisors, who then resigned. MCA also paid former stage show employee Loretta Miller an estimated $100,000 in October to close her case, sources said.

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