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Sexual harassment suit against ISU set for December trial

(via Idaho State Journal) A sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Idaho State University is scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 6 after Sixth District Judge Robert Naftz rejected the university’s motion for summary judgment to kill the case.

The lawsuit states that despite the claims of the alleged victim being ruled accurate by multiple ISU internal investigations, she was relocated to a basement office with no phone, computer or job description after making the allegations.

The individual accused of committing the harassment was given a pay increase.

The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 18, 2015, by former Idaho Museum of Natural History at ISU employee Kelly Pokorny. She worked as the education coordinator at the museum on ISU’s Pocatello campus in 2013 when she alleges she was sexually harassed by former museum director Dr. Herb Maschner.

Maschner served as director of the museum from 2010 until he left to take a position at the University of South Florida in 2015.

According to Pokorny’s complaint, Maschner engaged in inappropriate conduct for several months which culminated with him closing the door to her office on Oct. 25, 2013, and then kissing her and grabbing her buttocks.

Pokorny filed a sexual harassment complaint with ISU’s human resources office on Oct. 28, 2013.

According to the lawsuit, ISU’s human resources department as well as the school’s Equal Opportunity Affirmative Action and Diversity Office all investigated Pokorny’s claim and determined she was telling the truth about the incidents that took place between her and Maschner.

In response to Pokorny’s sexual harassment claim, Maschner alleged that Pokorny was the aggressor and she was the one guilty of sexual harassment.

On Jan. 9, 2014, the university issued a final report on the investigations. And according to Judge Naftz’s decision rejecting the university’s motion for summary judgement: “That report concluded that Ms. Pokorny’s claim and statement of facts were credible, that Dr. Maschner’s counterclaim and statement of facts were meritless and that Dr. Maschner violated ISU’s sexual harassment policy.”

The university’s final report recommended that Pokorny be allowed to return to work as education coordinator at the museum with a different supervisor or be given a similar position in a different department at the university with the same rate of pay.

The same recommendation from the university stated that Maschner should be suspended without pay for two weeks and be required to complete training to prevent future incidents of sexual harassment.

The recommendation also said “Maschner should be educated on retaliation and instructed that it is illegal for him to retaliate against Ms. Pokorny in any way for filing a complaint,” according to Judge Naftz’s decision.

Maschner was allowed to take 10 days without pay at his discretion and was given a pay raise after the sexual harassment investigation was completed, according to court records.

After filing the sexual harassment complaint, Pokorny was placed on administrative leave. When she returned to work on Jan. 8, 2014, Pokorny was told to report to ISU Vice Provost Lyle Castle and he directed her to a new office located in the basement of the ISU Administration Building.

According to Judge Naftz’s findings, the basement office didn’t have a computer or a telephone and Pokorny was not given any specific tasks to accomplish.

On Jan. 21, 2014, Pokorny alleges she was told she would not be allowed to return to work at the museum. She also claims Maschner retaliated against her for filing the complaint by claiming Pokorny had misused an ISU credit card and had inappropriately used an ISU laptop.

Maschner also requested on Jan. 29, 2014, that the investigation of the original sexual harassment claim be reopened by the university. After further investigation, the equal opportunity office at the university again reaffirmed the veracity of Pokorny’s sexual harassment claims against Maschner.

In February of 2014 Pokorny quit her job at ISU and qualified for Social Security disability due to emotional trauma. Prior to the alleged sexual harassment, Pokorny had lost an infant child.

Pokorny is seeking monetary damages from the university for violations of the Idaho Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She claims she was subjected to a hostile work environment and faced retaliation when she reported the unwanted sexual advances of Maschner.

In its motion for summary judgement, the university claimed the incidents that Pokorny reported don’t meet the legal threshold for proving a hostile work environment existed.

Judge Naftz disagreed with that assertion.

“Based on the undisputed evidence and the plaintiff’s verified allegations, reasonable jurors could conclude Ms. Pokorny was subjected to verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” Naftz wrote in his August decision rejecting the university’s summary judgement motion. “It is clear to this court that the plaintiff has sufficiently demonstrated she was subjected to verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

ISU Vice President for University Advancement Kent Tingey said the university is appealing Judge Naftz’s decision to reject the motion for summary judgement in the case, but had no further comment.

Maschner has not issued a statement about the sexual harassment claims but has pointed out that he’s not a defendant in the case. Pokorny’s lawsuit is solely against ISU.

Pokorny is being represented by Pocatello attorney James Ruchti. The university’s law firm is Benoit, Alexander, Harwood, High & Mollerup of Twin Falls.

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