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Penn State Employee Accuses University of Retaliation Following Harassment Claim

By Jenn Miller

A Penn State employee who accused her supervisor of sexual harassment and later reached a settlement with Penn State is suing the university for allegedly retaliating against the employee following the settlement.

According to legal documents in an ongoing federal lawsuit in the U.S. Middle District Court, Deborah Rearick, who joined the university in 1981, says beginning in 1998 her supervisor sexually harassed her verbally and by email. She also claims the supervisor doled out promotions and privileges in exchange for sexual favors.

Rearick says she asked her supervisor to stop the inappropriate activity and reported the issues to university’s Affirmative Action Office. Ultimately, in 2006, the university offered Rearick a lateral transfer to another department and a settlement agreement for the harassment claims.

The issue now before the court is Rearick’s claim the university continued to mistreat her as an employee following the settlement agreement. Rearick says the university has denied promotions she was qualified for due to poor and inaccurate employment evaluations, which she claims her supervisor drafted as retaliation after she reported the alleged sexual harassment.

After challenging the poor performance evaluations, Rearick claims the university “improperly coerced” her into repeated personality testing and wrongfully placed her on administrative leave in 2011 “for the purpose of intimidation and retaliation.”

“As a direct, foreseeable and actual result of the discriminatory conduct, plaintiff suffered actionable adverse employment action, financial harms and ordinary emotional distress,” the lawsuit says.

In a response to Rearick’s complaint, Penn State denies many of the allegations. In regards to the specific sexual harassment claims, the university says it is “without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations.” The university asked the court to dismiss the case.

In July, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt issued a scheduling order that demands all discovery in the case be completed by Dec. 20. A trial is not expected to occur until September 2015.

Earlier this year, Rearick filed an original complaint in this case, which the judge dismissed. However, the court allowed her to file an amended complaint, which she did with her new attorney, Andrew Barbin of Mechanicsburg.

Rearick’s original complaint included allegations against Penn State saying since 1998 the university had a pattern of covering up sexual harassment complaints and child abuse at the hands of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is now a convicted pedophile.

Rearick is seeking monetary damages.

 

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