Fired paralegal files sexual harassment claim against Philly law firm

Jon Campisi Oct. 25, 2011, 1:55pm

A New Jersey woman who worked as a paralegal for a Philadelphia law firm has filed a federal discrimination complaint against her former employer, alleging she endured frequent incidents of sexual harassment while at the job.

Paoli, Pa. attorney Garen Meguerian and Newtown Square, Pa. lawyer Kathryn V. Chandless filed the harassment claim Oct. 24 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Amanda L. Penna of Burlington, N.J.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are the law firm of Wilbraham, Lawler & Buba, and Edmund J. Powell, of Marlton, N.J., who was the plaintiff’s direct supervisor at the firm.

“Ms. Penna’s repeated refusal to yield to Powell’s sexual advances caused Powell to actively seek her dismissal from her job,” the lawsuit claims. “Throughout their encounters, Powell conveyed to Ms. Penna that he had the full support of WLB in all his decisions.”

As a result of Powell’s behavior and conduct, the suit claims, Penna began to suffer severe distress and was diagnosed with depression and forced out of her job.

The complaint alleges that Penna was terminated in mid March of this year, two years after first being hired as an administrator and paralegal at the law firm. The alleged harassment, the suit claims, began a couple months after the plaintiff began working at the Philadelphia firm.

One of the first incidents allegedly involved Powell sequestering Penna in his office to give her a Christmas bonus, at which time he engaged in an “unwanted embrace and a kiss on her cheek.”

The advances became more frequent in the coming months, however, and included email correspondence as well as in-person interaction, the suit states.

“Despite being more than twice her age and married with children, Powell inappropriately meddled into Ms. Penna’s personal life and continued to pressure Ms. Penna into conducting a sexual affair with him,” the lawsuit states. “Powell repeatedly criticized Ms. Penna’s boyfriend, noting that he was far more capable of providing for Ms. Penna’s needs and wants.”

In September 2010, the suit claims, Powell threatened Penna with termination. The plaintiff took this to mean either she conceded to his advances, or she would have to find work elsewhere, the suit claims.

“Powell continued to show neither the desire nor ability to control his harassment of Ms. Penna and clearly crossed the line into quid pro quo sexual harassment, the lawsuit states.

In late September 2010, Penna stopped going to work, alleging she was unable to perform her duties due to her stress and depression relating to the treatment she was allegedly receiving in the workplace.

Meanwhile, the law firm started conducting an “investigation” into her claims, what Penna actually believes was more of a “cover-up” designed to assure Powell’s continued tenure with the firm, while justifying Penna’s eventual discharge from the firm, the lawsuit states.

In March of this year, Penna applied for unemployment compensation benefits, at which time she was fired from her job, the suit states.

The complaint contains counts of discrimination, hostile work environment, quid pro quo harassment, retaliation, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Penna seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction barring the defendants from continuing its patterns of harassment, damages for back pay, lost revenue and future earnings, delay damages and other court relief.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06629-MSG.

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