Woman sues former employer, claiming she was fired for standing up for coworkers

August 11, 2013 8:31:14 PM PDT
A case of alleged sexual harassment, retaliation and wrongful termination is headed to a federal court. A Houston woman is suing her former employer, a big pharmaceutical company, claiming they fired her for standing up for her coworkers. She further claims that several others have filed similar complaints against the company.

Michelle Gerukos said, "This is a company I loved."

For nine years Gerukos says she was a successful pharmaceutical sales rep in the Texas medical center for a company called Eisai. But when she spoke up about lewd sexual comments made to a co-worker at dinner, she said she was targeted, reprimanded and ultimately fired.

"They were asking her what color panties she was wearing and one of them said, 'We like to think about you without panties on and go to a happy place,'" Gerukos recalled. "Because I got involved in the situation, I received a 'below expectations' in professionalism."

Her attorney, Les Adams, said, "We've been fighting human resources and the EEOC and Eisai for six years."

Adams is taking Gerukos' case to court. He argues that standing up for colleagues is considered protected activity under a law known as Title 7.

"People are more likely to say others are a victim and they've witnessed it, rather than report that they themselves are a victim," explained Dr. Mikki Hebl, a psychology professor at Rice University.

Dr. Hebl researches gender issues and discrimination. She believes many of us are immune to sexual harassment because it's so prevalent. And she points to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management that concluded 64 percent of people polled said they knew of a sexual harassment incident at work. The study showed 78 percent those claims were made by women.

"In a way it's not surprising that sexual harassment incidences haven't gone down significantly, even with training and even with well-intentioned and educated people."

Gerukos says she went to Eisai's human resources department to no avail, then to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Investigators dismissed her case after 18 months.

EEOC attorney Tim Bowne explained, "We usually don't vouch for there being no discrimination, but what we do say when we dismiss cases is we didn't find any."

Still, Gerukos says she's determined to keep fighting.

She said, "I hope that they say, you know what -- we need to do something about this. I hope that this doesn't happen to anybody else."

Attorneys representing Eisai say they intend to defend their case vigorously to refute Michelle Gerukos' allegations. The trial starts Monday at 9am in federal court. A jury is already seated. Trial is expected to last one week.

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