An unwanted touch. Two lives in free fall. A dispatch from the drive to stop sexual assault on campus. Bridge 1/19/2017

In the middle of a national conversation about rape culture on college campuses, with statistics demonstrating that women are being forced into sex and their perpetrators rarely challenged, the story of Nathan and Melanie is a provocative one; it illustrates how university investigations into sexual behavior can reverberate in unexpected, and painful, ways, potentially scarring both partners.

Police brutality, sexual harassment, college kids wrongly accused. A look at the battles underway, and the victories won at Deborah Gordon Law

Welcome to the debut of the Deborah Gordon Law Blog!

The blog comes with the launch of our new website and will be a great way to keep track of one of the most interesting law firms in Michigan.

Deb's work as a civil rights attorney frequently garners national attention and she is often sought as an expert commentator on stories about discrimination, sexual harassment, police brutality and wrongful prosecutions.

We'll be posting about new cases she files, upcoming trials, settlements and verdicts. In some instances, we'll provide links to interesting filings and depositions.  Deb will sometimes weigh in with her take on local and national issues. Her team of attorneys, including Sharon Dolente, Ben Shipper, and Marc Thomas will be posting as well. 

Here's some of the latest: 

 NOTE TO DONALD: SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS ILLEGAL. JUST ASK YOUR PAL ROGER AILES

Since we have to endure the daily tsunami of outright lies, vicious and unrelenting hate-mongering, race-baiting and all round general foolishness from the GOP presidential candidate, it is sometimes tempting to create one’s own Trump News Blackout. Just to be relieved of the stench.

There is a danger in that, though.

Trumpisms permeate the national collective conscience at the moment. Muslims are dangerous. Mexicans rape.  Hillary is a crook. If these statements are not called out, held up in the light of day, and thoroughly debunked as the malarkey that they are, we run the risk of them gaining hold, somehow becoming acceptable in our communities, burrowing down and growing, like ticks on a stray dog.

Take Donald Trump’s recent foray into sexual harassment, a topic he likely knows intimately, based on the comments he’s made about women over the years, including his remarkable and downright creepy sexualizing of his own daughters. (He’d “date” Ivanka if he could. He likes Tiffany’s body and wondered, when she was a newborn, what her breasts would eventually look like.)

Because Deborah Gordon Law is a preeminent civil rights firm and champion of women who have been sexually harassed, it is something we’ve been tracking. 

Earlier this month, Trump breezily dismissed the growing allegations against his pal Roger Ailes from numerous women, who detailed decades of abuse. Ailes wielded his power at FOX New like some modern-day Caligula, harassing and sometimes terrorizing women, groping them, exposing himself, using obscene language and offering up quid quo pro deals – sleep with me and I’ll advance your career.

Trump, not surprisingly, found the allegations “sad.”  Not for the women, of course, but for Ailes.  And when he asked what his feelings would be if Ivanka were harassed, he offered up this:

“I would like to think she would find another career, or find another company.”

It was like a scene out of Mad Men. Only Don Draper has much better hair.

Trump’s son Eric followed up with an even more alarming comment. “I think what he is saying is Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman. She would not allow herself to be subjected to it.”

Note to the Trump clan: Strong, powerful women are routinely sexually harassed. And contrary to Donald Trump’s assertion that it is merely an employment matter, it is flat out against the law.

Deborah Gordon Law has represented dozens of women who have been harassed. And it is precisely because of their strength that they reached out, sought help – and got justice.

In a case that gained national headlines, Deb took on the case of four women who were brutally harassed by their managers at Tri-Chem, a company in Troy, Michigan, that sells solvents. The women, who were sales reps for the company, were ordered to use “their own female magic’’ to entice customers. As part of their job description, they were required to send customers photos and calendars of themselves semi-nude or skimpily clad.

The employee manual instructed them to “have great stories to tell. Always have weekend plans…bikini ski contests for charity, modeling part-time for Budweiser.”

The women were eventually fired, or forced to quit for not being “warm and fuzzy” enough to the customers.

Deb filed a lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court and settled out of court for large money judgements. Tri-Chem was also ordered by the state to revamp their sexual harassment policies and to report any other accusations of harassment.

Those women, and the dozens of others we’ve represented, helped change the culture of their workplaces, a kind of pay-it-forward for the women who came after them.

The fight, though continues. Most recently Deb filed a lawsuit on behalf of two very young women who were also propositioned, groped and harassed by the owner of Beirut Palace, a prominent Royal Oak restaurant. (See the details below in an earlier posting) When they refused to comply with demands for sexual favors, he withheld their pay.

Their youth makes their story particularly compelling; young women entering the workforce, perhaps for the first time, anxious to learn new skills, build their resumes, earn some money, only to come up against a very ugly truth – the harassment continues today.

These women, indeed all women, deserve better than Donald Trump.

 

Deborah Gordon Law sues well-known Royal Oak restaurant for rampant sexual harassment 

Two young women working at Beirut Palace, a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Royal Oak were groped, antagonized, and barraged with inappropriate sexual comments by the restaurant's owner and manager. 

The abuse against the two women, aged 17 and 18, took place over the course of four months, beginning in November, 2015. In addition to the harassment - at one point he urged the two women to use carrots from the restaurant kitchen as sex toys - he withheld their pay because they would not engage with him sexually.

The women quit their jobs in February and sought help from Deborah Gordon Law. 

A lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court against the restaurant and the manager earlier this month, week, charging that he had violated the women's civil rights, and Michigan's minimum wage law.   

The story was featured in the Oakland Press.

 

Livonia Police and Walmart pay up after wrongly arresting, roughing up young disabled woman 

The city of Livonia has agreed to pay $125,000 to a young woman who was arrested, handcuffed and thrown to the ground by police in a Walmart store because security there mistakenly thought she had stolen three dollars worth of hair ties. Walmart settled as well for an undisclosed six figure amount. 

Jodi Kozma's nightmare began in August, 2012 when she was shopping with  her grandmother and a cousin at the Livonia store on Seven Mile. Kozma, 25,  is developmentally disabled, and functions at the age of an eight-year-old. She still lives at home, and is always supervised by a family member. 

Security video at the store show Kozma, a few aisles over from her grandmother, shopping in the cosmetic department. She picks up a package of hair ties and examines them. She also checks her phone, which she keeps tucked in her waistband.  Security personnel watching the video cameras mistakenly determine she has put the ties in her pants. 

She proceeds to check out with her grandmother, and cousin, where all items are paid for, including the hair ties. Her grandmother received a receipt.  As they proceeded out the door, they were stopped by three burly security guards and forced back into the store. Her grandmother repeatedly offered to show them the receipt, and repeatedly warned them that Jodi had special needs. Nevertheless the guards detained them, separating Jodi from her family members and calling Livonia police. 

Officers arrived, and even though they had been warned by the store that Jodi was special needs, roughed her up, handcuffed her behind her back and kept her detained in a back room.  Eventually all charges are dropped when police realize she had no ties, and that there had been no theft. 

Jodi, though, was left traumatized. Her parents had taught her to trust police officers, and to seek out their help should she become lost or separated from family, and now those very people had physically and emotionally harmed her. 

Notably, the store violated its own policy that requires that it only detains shoppers suspected of thefts over $25.   Additionally, the three security guards had no training in handling people with disabilities. In the settlement, Deb insisted that such officers be trained to avoid future abuse. 

Growing number of young men wrongly prosecuted by university officials over flimsy sexual misconduct allegations 

Deb is gaining a national reputation for challenging overly aggressive and sometimes downright unconstitutional prosecutions of young men on college campuses, accused in highly questionable sexual misconduct cases. She defended a University of Michigan student who was accused of sexual misconduct after an encounter with a fellow student in a dorm room. The university found that the student had, indeed, violated school policies, despite the fact that the young woman had climbed into his bed and agreed to intercourse. She reported the incident months later, only after her mother read her diary and learned of the tryst. 

Deb filed a lawsuit on the student's behalf, claiming the University had violated his right to due process. The university dropped the charges in September, 2015. The story was covered by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Slate Magazine. 

Since then, several more young men and their families have approached Deb for help, including a Michigan State University student who was accused of sexual misconduct after he touched his girlfriend's breast following consensual sex. The woman reported the incident to the university 16 months later, and despite evidence to the contrary, the school found him in violation.  The family is considering a lawsuit. 

Deb is among a growing chorus of attorneys, law professors and other experts nationwide, who say such prosecutions, under Title IX federal policies, are wrongheaded and that universities need to revamp their procedures and put into place safeguards that protect both those making the allegations, but equally as important, those who are accused.

Time to correct the injustice of workplace discrimination over sexual orientation and identity

Here is a grave and ongoing injustice - as noted by a recent federal appellate court. Despite great advances by the LGBT community, including the right to marry, employers can continue to discriminate against this class of citizens, firing them, demoting them and harassing them because of their sexual orientation or identity. 

The Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, protects people from travesties like sexual harassment or racial discrimination. It protects people from discrimination based on religion and national origin. But it offers no protection on matters of sexual orientation. People who call our office, looking for help, are often astonished to learn that under the existing law, there is little that can be done.

"I don't think people understand that being gay does not in anyway give you any legal protection," Deb said in a recent news story. "People have zero legal remedies in Michigan. You can be flat out fired because you're gay and there is nothing you can do about it."

An Indiana woman took her claim of discrimination as far as the 7th U.S. Circuit Court. Kimberly Hively was a part-time instructor at the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend. Hively claimed in her lawsuit that she was passed over for a full-time position six times because she is a lesbian. A lower court tossed the suit, saying there was no protection under federal law for sexual orientation.

The appellate court agreed, but also offered strong words about the inequities of the existing law.

"It seems unlikely that our society can continue to condone a legal structure in which employees can be fired, harassed, demeaned, singled out for undesirable tasks, paid lower wages, demoted, passed over for promotions and otherwise discriminated against solely based on who they date, love or marry," the court said in its finding.

And the court noted the irony in the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage. Same sex couples can "get married on Saturday, then fired on Monday for just that act."

Hively, according to published reports, is considering taking her case to the Supreme Court.

Some twenty one states have stepped in to correct that inequity, passing laws that prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community. Michigan is not one of them.

Deb,who has been fighting against discrimination in all forms for more than three decades says its time for both state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation protecting our LGBT community.