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Sexual harassment suits plague Duke

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A former employee at Duke Energy's Morro Bay plant has terminated a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company as part of what appears to be a settlement.

When asked about the suit two months ago, the woman's lawyers would only say that it was in settlement mode. This week they could only confirm that they had terminated the suit - something that commonly happens when a suit is settled.

David Hicks, a Duke spokesperson, said the company doesn't comment on litigation or personnel matters. "And this falls into both categories," he said.

In her suit, the former employee - New Times is using a pseudonym, Sally, instead of the woman's real name because of the nature of the suit - laid out a shocking list of allegations against Duke.

In April 2003, the suit claimed, Sally arrived at work and found a white, sticky liquid, apparently semen, dripped on her desk and pooled on the keys of her computer keyboard. She reported the incident to her supervisor and got a new keyboard.

A few weeks later, Sally put on her hard hat to deliver documents to another part of the plant. When she got back to her desk and tried to take her hard hat off, the lawsuit says she found that her hair was glued to the inside of the hat because of a sticky substance. Sally cleaned her hair and reported the incident to her supervisor.

On May 7, Sally's lawyers say she came to work and once again found what looked like semen pooled on her keyboard and desk, and rubbed on the handset of the phone. Once again, reported the incident to her supervisor.

Five days later, after Sally answered her phone and found the same sticky substance covering the mouthpiece, she was moved to a different office in the plant.

But that didn't stop her alleged harasser. On May 27, Sally said she walked into her office and found what appeared to be semen dripping down the front of the desk and smeared on the mouthpiece of the phone.

In her suit against Duke, Sally's lawyers say she felt like she was being stalked and was terrified of contracting HIV. They argued that she had informed the company of every event - and even filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing - but Duke took many months to find the man responsible and take corrective action, all the while telling Sally and her husband to keep quiet about the matter.

In court documents, Sally's lawyers point to a key date, 10 months after she first found the material on her desk. On Feb. 2, 2004, the suit says, a plant administrator found what looked like semen on her desk.

Within two weeks, the suit says, Duke had performed blood tests on its employees and had found the guilty party, "making clear how quickly the result could have been achieved had the priority been to obtain a resolution rather than keep the matter quiet at [Sally's] expense."

Because the man is not named as a party in the suit, New Times is not printing his name.

Earlier this year, Duke apparently settled another sexual harassment lawsuit brought by another female employee. In her suit, she accused various male employees of a long list of harassment: slapping her behind with a clipboard, lifting her off the ground by her pants, picking her up and carrying her several yards, repeatedly touching and tickling her, asking her over the phone to "show me your hooters," referring to her as the "slut of the plant," telling her that she must have had sex the night before because she was walking funny.

In her lawsuit, her lawyers say some of the harassment occurred in plain view of Duke management, who refused to take action. When administrators did take action, the suit says, it was done in a way that her co-workers knew she had complained, and were allowed to retaliate.

"[Duke's] procedures to supposedly prevent sexual harassment forced the [woman] to choose between the harassment itself, and the ugly consequences of attempting to stop it," the suit read.

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