Pennsylvania Record

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Vet clinic receptionist who reported sexual harassment and sued after being fired settles case

State Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Feb 4, 2020

Sexual harassment

PHILADELPHIA – A Delaware woman who alleged she was both sexually harassed by a maintenance worker at a Philadelphia veterinary clinic and later fired from her receptionist job for reporting that conduct has settled with her ex-employer.

On Sept. 9, counsel for the receptionist filed a praecipe to mark the case brought by Nicole Peters as settled, discontinued and ended. Terms of the settlement were not revealed.

Peters, of Middletown, Del., initially filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Oct. 29, 2018, versus KH Investors, Inc. (doing business as “The Pet Mechanic”) of Philadelphia.

Peters said she was hired on Jan. 29, 2017 as a receptionist at the defendant’s now-former location on North 3rd Street in the Northern Liberties neighborhood in Philadelphia (which has since moved to Fishtown). The plaintiff added she was not provided an employee handbook.

In March 2017, The Pet Mechanic hired a maintenance worker named Gary, the suit said. On several occasions following his hire, Peters said she observed Gary flirting with and making sexual advances towards female employees, including defendant’s manager, Nicole Covatta, the suit said.

“On May 16, 2017, approximately one hour prior to their closing, plaintiff observed Gary attempting to flirt with a newly-hired, African-American female employee named Lovely. Plaintiff observed Lovely ignoring Gary’s sexual advances. At that time, plaintiff observed Gary yell ‘You n—r b—tch’ at Lovely, who appeared intimidated and did not respond,” the suit stated.

“Plaintiff was disturbed by this outburst and approached Gary and asked if he had said what she thought he said. Gary responded that he had. Plaintiff responded that his statements were totally inappropriate and racist. Gary responded, ‘How about I post [an image of] your a—s online, is that appropriate?’”

As Covatta was already gone for the day, Peters went next door to Doggie Style, LLC, also owned and operated by the defendant, to see if their manager was available and learn how to make a complaint about Gary’s conduct, the suit said. She alleges Gary followed her at that time and watched her from outside the premises, when she spoke with the manager on duty and explained what happened.

Peters said she was told to follow procedure as listed in the company handbook, but she replied that she had never been provided with one. Furthermore, Peters said she did not want to leverage her complaint until reading the appropriate section in the book, which she then received by e-mail on May 19, 2017. When it instructed her to report sexually harassing conduct immediately, Peters then reported the conduct to Covatta – who supposedly told the plaintiff that she had “done the right thing” and that the situation would be handled, the suit said.

On May 22, 2017, the defendant terminated Gary’s employment. However, the plaintiff found herself terminated just four days later, for the expressed reason of “not following the policy and reporting the incident involving Gary immediately,” the suit said.

“As set forth above, complainant engaged in protected activity by making a complaint about sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Plaintiff’s sexual harassment and race discrimination complaint was a motivating factor in respondent’s decision,” according to the lawsuit.

In new matter filed Jan. 22, 2019, the defendant denied the plaintiff’s allegations and countered she did not present a claim upon which relief could be granted, failed to file an EEOC, PHRA and/or PFPO charge after the alleged conduct occurred, the conduct was not offensive to a reasonable person and the plaintiff was terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, among other arguments.

The plaintiffs responded to the new matter on Feb. 4, 2019, denying the new matter merely as conclusions of law.

Prior to settlement and for violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the plaintiff was seeking damages in excess of $75,000, jointly and severally, plus reinstatement of her position with a comparable salary and benefits including medical, vacation and sick time, employee benefits, costs for mental and emotional distress, pain and suffering, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs of suit, interest, delay damages and any other relief the Court deemed just, proper and equitable, in addition to a trial by jury.

The plaintiff was represented by Graham F. Baird of the Law Offices of Eric A. Shore, in Philadelphia.

The defendant was represented by Joel I. Fishbein and Susan M. Cirilli of Litchfield Cavo, also in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 181003843

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas