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Feuding employees leave employer mired in the middle

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Annie Ludwig began working for the Rochester Psychiatric Center (RPC) as a psychiatric nurse in the Adult Services Unit. Within a month, she was counseled to improve her professional knowledge, supervision and attendance. Otherwise, she would be in danger of losing her job.

Her performance apparently improved, and she stayed on, eventually moving to the center’s Regional Forensic Unit (RFU). The RFU is a secure facility for patients with dangerous mental illnesses.

Within months of her transfer to the RFU, Ludwig began to complain that co-worker Susan Myers made comments about Ludwig’s “attractiveness, about the guys staring” at her. Ludwig said Myers told her that male co-workers had expressed interest in having an affair with Ludwig. Ludwig reported the comments to her supervisor, Diane Reed, who suggested that Ludwig directly confront Myers.

A month later, Ludwig complained to the RPC’s assistant personnel director about Myers’ comments. She also accused Myers of fabricating information in patient charts. Within days, supervisor Reed met with Ludwig and Myers. She advised Myers that the RPC had a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, and told her to stop making comments regarding Ludwig’s appearance.

Over the next six months, Ludwig and Myers each reported numerous infractions by the other. They began arguing in front of patients and staff. The RPC determined that their ongoing feud had become a safety threat in the institution.

Ludwig, who had less seniority, was transferred back to her former unit. Then she sued for discrimination and retaliation.

The judge dismissed the case, ruling that the RPC had dealt adequately with Ludwig’s sexual harassment complaints by counseling Myers, who stopped the objectionable behavior. The rest was indeed nothing more than a feud, and the RPC had legitimate reasons to transfer Ludwig to break it up. 

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