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Falls car dealer will pay $125,000 to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

David Chevrolet Buick in Niagara Falls has agreed to pay a total of $125,000 to three employees and adopt new policies to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency said.

The EEOC had claimed the dealership created a sexually hostile work environment for two women and one man, all of whom were salespeople. The agency contends the dealership's atmosphere led the two women to quit and claims the man was fired in retaliation when he complained about the workplace environment.

The agency said it filed suit in U.S. District Court in Buffalo after first attempting to reach a settlement through its conciliation process.

The alleged incidents occurred in 2005. Judy Keenan, acting regional attorney for the EEOC, explained the several years between the accusations and the settlement by noting the agency first conducted an investigation, then tried reach a settlement before filing the lawsuit, which resulted in the settlement.

The EEOC in its lawsuit said the two women were subjected to pornography, photos of topless women and lewd comments. The agency said the salesman claimed he was sexually harassed based on stereotypes of how a man should act, including assigning him a derogatory e-mail address and subjecting him to comments about highlights in his hair and crude sexual comments when it was learned he had a girlfriend.

Keenan said several individuals were accused of involvement in the harassment, but that all except one of them left the dealership in subsequent years.

Hugh C. Carlin, an attorney for David Chevrolet, said in a statement that the dealership "denied all allegations of unlawful discrimination" and contended that the claims were "without merit."

"The allegations contained in the EEOC's press release are only allegations and were never proven at trial," Carlin said, adding that two of the employees in the case "voluntarily resigned" and the third employee "abandoned employment."

Carlin said the company agreed to settle the claims because of the "anticipated substantial expenditure of time and money necessary to successfully defend itself through trial."

It agreed to the settlement "only after protracted negotiations, on terms which David Chevrolet views as far less onerous than those initially demanded by the EEOC," he said.

"David Chevrolet continues to maintain a workplace free from unlawful discrimination and retaliation," Carlin said.

Along with the payments, the consent decree settling the lawsuit forbids the dealership from discriminating against employees or from creating or maintaining a sexually hostile relationship. The dealership will also have to post a notice, adopt anti-harassment policies and take other steps that will be monitored by the EEOC.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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