The National Education Association and its Alaska affiliate have agreed to pay $750,000 to settle claims of gender discrimination and harassment brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of three female employees of the teachers’ union. Carol Christopher, Carmela Chamara and Julie Bhend filed complaints alleging that their supervisor, Thomas Harvey, who was then Interim Assistant Executive Director of NEA-Alaska, engaged in abusive behavior towards them because of their gender, including screaming, yelling and physically threatening actions. In September 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the claims brought by the women, which had been dismissed in 2003 by U.S. District Court Judge James K. Singleton. The Ninth Circuit held that, because the female plaintiffs had presented evidence that they were treated differently than the men in the workplace, the lawsuit under Title VII could go forward. 422 F.3d 840 (9th Cir. 2005)
As the Ninth Circuit noted, the record in the case revealed “numerous episodes of Harvey shouting in a loud and hostile manner at female employees. The shouting was frequent, profane and often public.” In addition to the “shouting” and “yelling” described by the appellate court, it was recognized that “Harvey’s verbal conduct also had a hostile physical accompaniment.”
Christopher testified that Harvey regularly came up behind her silently as she was working, stood over her, and watched her for no apparent reason. Bhend testified that at an evaluation meeting where Harvey accused her of taking breaks with Christopher and another employee in order to talk behind his back, Harvey “lung [ed] across the table” at her and shook his fist at her. She also testified that on another occasion when she was comforting a local union president about an unrelated matter, Harvey came up behind her, grabbed her shoulders, and yelled “get back to your office.” Chamara testified that in one instance, Harvey “pump[ed] his fist in [her] direction, trying to make a point, as was his custom. Stepping toward me to make the–make the point. I stepped back. I told him that he was being physically threatening.” She went so far as to call the police and file a report on one occasion, on her therapist’s advice that she document physical threats. The physical manifestation of Harvey’s anger was also confirmed by other witnesses, including male employees. For example, Jeff Cloutier, another UniServ director, testified to Harvey’s regular invasion of Christopher’s and Bhend’s “personal space.”
One of the women testified to being in a “state of panic” as a result of Harvey’s behavior, and to feeling “physically threatened most of the time.” Another testified that Harvey created an atmosphere that was “like working with a ticking time bomb because you’re sitting by and you’re waiting for your turn to be next.”
During the discovery phase of the case, NEA-Alaska claimed that Harvey raised his voice in the workplace because of a problem with his hearing, however there was never any evidence offered by the defendants documenting such a problem. Nor was there any explanation offered as to how any alleged hearing problem caused Harvey’s targeting of women for abuse, or his loud use of profanity in the workplace.
Although Christopher, Chamara and Bhend originally filed their complaints only against NEA’s Alaska affiliate, as that was their employer, evidence uncovered during the course of the case revealed that the national organization had been primarily responsible for assigning Harvey to work in management in Alaska. The evidence revealed that the national organization did this in spite of knowledge that Harvey had engaged in abusive conduct towards women in the workplace at other NEA-affiliated organizations. While working at an NEA-affiliated organization in Maryland, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, Harvey was charged with physically assaulting one woman, and causing two more women to file complaints concerning his verbally abusive and physically threatening behavior. Following those incidents, the National Staff Organization published a notice in its newsletter to NEA employees warning about Mr. Harvey’s harassing behavior. After this, NEA hired Harvey to work at its Mississippi affiliate, where his abusive conduct continued. NEA subsequently made arrangements for Harvey to be transferred out of Mississippi, and into management of NEA’s Alaska affiliate.
“The parallels between the actions of the national NEA, in passing Tom Harvey from one affiliate to another in spite of knowing of his abusive behavior, and the actions of the Catholic Church in transferring known abusers from parish to parish, are striking,” said Terry A. Venneberg, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case. “It was shameful for the NEA, an organization that prides itself in advocacy for employees in abusive situations, to send Tom Harvey to Alaska, knowing of his capacity for destroying lives and careers.” Kenneth R. Friedman, who also represented the plaintiffs, said, “NEA-Alaska was almost as much a victim of Tom Harvey as the three abused employees. NEA put this time bomb in their midst, and the organization has suffered from top to bottom. Good employees have left, morale is low, and the mission of advocacy on behalf of teachers has been derailed. The full human and financial cost of sending Tom Harvey to Alaska will never be known. The teachers of Alaska have a right to be angry and upset over this drain on their union.”
Tom Harvey is currently the Executive Director of NEA-Alaska. He was promoted to that position after the EEOC filed this lawsuit.