Sexual Harassment Ignored by General Counsel, Lawsuit Follows

Image credit: Mohamed Hassan on Pixabay

The general counsel of a global technology firm is said to have disregarded the sexual harassment complaints of an employee who said she experienced “wildly inappropriate sexual advances” from her boss.

This is according to a lawsuit filed last week in New York federal district court against Fortive Corp. The company is a diversified industrial technology conglomerate. Danaher spun it off in 2016. The company’s headquarters is in Everett, Washington.

Allegations of Sexual Harassment by New President

A woman who worked as a digital marketing and communications manager at a subsidiary of Fortive Corp. alleged in her complaint that the company’s president, Andrew McCauley, pressured her to join him in the bedroom of his corporate department during what was supposed to be a lunch meeting in August 2019. Hayley Reed said that this was on McCauley’s first day on the job.

When she declined the invitation and walked out of the apartment, the two dined at a restaurant in the building’s lobby. However, Reed claimed that the new exec continued to “make inappropriate remarks to make clear that he was sexually interested in Ms. Reed,” according to the sexual harassment complaint.

Sexual Harassment Retaliation
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Reed also contends that McCauley retaliated for her rejection by cutting her budget. He removed her from strategic planning conversations and meetings. He also imposed unrealistic performance goals on her and downplayed her professional achievements.

Specific Sexual Harassment Allegations Against the Company and McCauley

Reed’s suit names Fortive, a number off its subsidiaries, and McCauley as defendants. She alleges discrimination, retaliation, and aiding and abetting in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law.

Reed’s complaint says she hesitated to report the alleged sexual harassment to the human resources department at the subsidiary, Qualitrol. Her earlier attempts to raise alarms about workplace misconduct backfired.

In one example, she notes that when she reported a manager who called her a “bitch,” she was told that reporting the incident was a “very big career mistake.”

General Counsel Blows Off Reed and She Hires an Attorney

But when the alleged retaliation escalated, she took her concerns to the company’s vice president of HR in February. The VP contacted the company’s general counsel Doug Hicks. However, Reed alleges that the general counsel would only allow her a brief phone call. Hicks ended the conversation before Reed finished explaining the sexual harassment.

“Rather than do the right thing and remedy the situation, the company, through its in-house counsel Doug Hicks, Esq., blew off Ms. Reed and her attorney,” the complaint says.

Reed hired an attorney, Michael Willemin, a partner at the employment law firm of Wigdor Law LLP in New York. She worried about bias on the part of the independent investigator the company assigned to her case. The investigator was Seyfarth Shaw partner Lynn Kappelman, who usually defends employers.

Fortive Increases Retaliation After Reed Hires Attorney, She Says

After she brought on Willemin, Reed says that the company increased its retaliation and “began unlawfully surveilling” her by installing monitoring programs on her computer that recorded keystrokes and enabled remote access to her photos and audio.

“It is perhaps unsurprising that Ms. Reed’s complaints of sexual harassment would be treated this way, as both Fortive and Qualitrol are companies run by men, and for men,” states the complaint.

According to Reed’s suit, 78% of Fortive’s corporate leadership team are men and all seven of the vice presidents at Qualitrol who report to McCauley are male.

Reed was one of only two women who reported to McCauley. She alleges that McCauley essentially forced her to resign recently. The work environment had become too hostile given the sexual harassment and retaliation.

“All the while, the company still has not revealed the results of its alleged investigation into her complaints, which were first made more than a month ago,” her complaint asserts.

Further, the complaint quotes Fortive’s Inclusion & Diversity Vision Statement, which says, “We all have a role in building a community where everyone belongs. Where you can speak your mind, be yourself, and feel supported. It’s how we achieve more together — for each other, for our customers, and for the world.”

The complaint alleges that “Fortive may ‘talk the talk’ about everyone belonging, speaking one’s mind and feeling supported. However, as Ms. Reed has learned over the past 19 months, neither Fortive nor its 18 operating companies, including Qualitrol, ‘walks the walks’ in this regard.”