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  • Writer's pictureKirstin Kennedy

Two former employees allege retaliation against PA agency

For immediate release

PITTSBURGH – Two former employees of an area agency alleged that they were terminated from their positions for reporting instances of sexual harassment perpetrated by a superior.

According to a complaint filed in the Western District Court of Pennsylvania, Plaintiff Camille Smith began working for the Mon Valley Initiative in September 2014 as an Employment Specialist. After she worked for the agency for about two years, she was moved to Job Developer and, eventually, she was promoted to the position of Assistant Director, according to the complaint. Ms. Smith alleged that she was well liked by her fellow staff members and became a confidant to many of them.

However, according to the filing, Ms. Smith’s direct supervisor, Tracey Reaves, took issue with her friendly relationship with the staff. According to the complaint, on several occasions, Ms. Reaves remarked, “that everyone loves Camille” in a mocking tone.

Additionally, many employees complained to Ms. Smith about Ms. Reaves, according to the complaint. Ms. Smith alleged that most of the complaints were about Ms. Reaves’ volatile temper and inconsistent directives. However, according to the complaint, MVI employee Sherman Jones made several allegations about sexual harassment in the workplace regarding Ms. Reaves. According to the complaint, throughout the course of Ms. Smith’s employment, she witnessed multiple instances of inappropriate conduct on the part of Ms. Reaves towards Mr. Jones. Ms. Smith alleged that these incidents included multiple attempts by Ms. Reaves to hold Mr. Jones’ hand, comments made by Ms. Reaves about Mr. Jones’ eyes, including descriptions of them as “nice,” “dreamy,” and “beautiful,” and Ms. Reaves describing Mr. Jones as having a “nice ass.” Ms. Smith further alleged that Ms. Reaves attempted to discuss her sex life with Mr. Jones in front of other employees.

According to the complaint, Ms. Smith had a meeting with MVI’s Chief Executive Officer, Laura Zinski, to discuss her various concerns about Ms. Reaves’ behavior. Despite this, Ms. Reaves did not stop sexually harassing Mr. Jones, according to the complaint. Ms. Smith alleged that, soon after reporting the sexual harassment, she was called into a meeting with Ms. Reaves wherein she was accused of “undermining” her authority. Ms. Smith was then terminated for the alleged infraction, according to the filing. Ms. Smith alleged that she had never been previously reprimanded or received any disciplinary warning during her tenure with MVI.

Lead Attorney Sean Ruppert alleged in the filing that MVI retaliated against Ms. Smith in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In an additional complaint also filed in the Western District Court of Pennsylvania, second Plaintiff Earl Lamar similarly alleged wrongful termination by MVI.

According to the filing, Mr. Lamar was hired to work for the agency in July 2011 as an Employment and Financial Coach. Ms. Reaves was his direct superior, according to the complaint. Mr. Lamar alleged that he also witnessed several instances of sexual harassment perpetrated by Ms. Reaves against Mr. Jones. According to the complaint, he and Mr. Jones discussed the situation.

Mr. Lamar alleged that, after Ms. Smith reported the instances of sexual harassment, he noticed a concerted effort on the part of MVI management to cover up the accusation and to discourage anyone from corroborating Mr. Jones’ claims. Additionally, according to the complaint, Mr. Lamar was questioned about the accusations made by Mr. Jones. Fearing retaliation, he purposefully provided vague answers regarding the incident, according to the complaint.

Mr. Lamar further alleged that Ms. Reaves was increasingly paranoid and accused him of talking behind her back, which he denied. According to the complaint, he was later accused of and engaging in efforts to undermine the organization. Soon after, he was terminated, according to the filing.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, both Ms. Smith and Mr. Lamar filed complaints through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and were provided rights to sue. Their separate lawsuits were both filed by Attorney Ruppert.

Ruppert Manes Narahari is a Pittsburgh-based employment law firm representing workers who have been wrongfully terminated, harassed, or cheated by their employers. The firm also provides business law-related services and represents small businesses and entrepreneurs in startup, transactional, and litigation matters.

For more information on the claims made by Ms. Smith and Mr. Lamar against the Mon Valley Initiative, contact the law office of Ruppert Manes Narahari at 412-626-5626.


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