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Crawfish étouffée: $143,000

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has agreed to pay more than $143,000 to settle sexual harassment complaints by Mary Harris, a GDOT secretary, and Carrie Hart, who staffs the front desk in the commissioner’s office.

Harris, who was awarded $100,000, claimed former Vice Chairman Garland Pinholster and other GDOT board members subjected female staff to sexual remarks and inappropriate touching. Harris reported that Pinholster made “comments about her butt on a regular basis.” Hart, who received just over $44,000, reported that Pinholster started making remarks about her butt earlier this year.

In March, Pinholster took Harris to lunch and ordered crawfish étouffée. He made what he later described as “a country joke about its having an aphrodisiac effect.” Harris reported that he said, “The food is making me horny. Are you horny? If you are, I can help you out.”

The following day, Pinholster took Harris and Hart out to lunch, and reportedly made sexual comments about the food and asked Hart if she would do a table dance. He later hugged them.

Pinholster said he was merely kidding around and cited a “general atmosphere of banter with sexual innuendo” in the department. Retired board member Billy Langdale, who is in his 80s and was also cited in the complaints, said he “kidded all the time” with Harris, and she often responded in kind.

Note: The GDOT experience is a good reminder that the line between kidding around at work and sexual harassment can be drawn by any employee at any time through a complaint.

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