July 9, 2008
Union and 2 Women Settle Sexual Harassment Suit
By William C. Lhotka, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jul. 9--UPDATED, 10:40 a.m.
The resolution of the case in the court of Judge James R. Hartenbach was the result of negotiations between Steven Cohen and Adam Goffstein for the plaintiffs and Frank Carlson, Thomas DeVoto and Michael P. Bastien for the union and its officials.
A jury was picked Monday. Its seven men and five women heard opening statements and the testimony of Moore on Tuesday. Milster had been expected to testify this morning. She had worked for more than a decade at the union headquarters in Green Park.
Terms of the out-of-court settlement were not immediately revealed. Local 110 represents 3,200 workers in the construction field.
Union officials, such as former business manager Gary Elliott, had been expected to testify during the trial and deny the allegations. The local claimed the women were fired in July 2004 for policy violations they allegedly committed on behalf of a rival slate of candidates.
OUR EARLIER STORY
CLAYTON -- Two former office employees of Laborers' Local 110 claim in a lawsuit on trial this week that union officers sexually harassed them and then fired them when they complained.
One of the women, Linda Moore, testified Tuesday in St. Louis County Circuit Court that union official Gary Elliott physically assaulted her at the office in Green Park in March 2004, about four months before she was fired.
But defense attorney Frank Carlson told the jury that Moore and the other plaintiff, Margaret Milster, had joined then-business manager Fred Wolf in a conspiracy to smear Elliott so Wolf and his slate could retain control in elections that year.
Carlson said Moore came forward the same day Wolf purportedly offered Elliott $100,000 and a return to his full-time job as a business agent if Elliott would drop his campaign for business manager, the local's top job.
Elliott refused, Carlson said. In the campaign, Wolf then put out a flier with Moore's allegation of sexual assault. One of its headlines shown to jurors said: "Gary Elliott for Sex Scandal and Business Manager."
Nonetheless, Elliott defeated Wolf, who had run the union since 1992, when his slate defeated a group of incumbents led by then-St. Louis crime boss Matthew "Mike" Trupiano.
Moore was the first witness in the trial, in which the women seek unspecified damages for harassment and wrongful dismissal.
She testified that she and Milster were often subjected to sexual "jokes, innuendoes and propositions."
Moore's attorney, Steven Cohen, asked his client why she didn't protest. She testified that she saw Milster once complain to Wolf that Elliott had left pornographic images on the office computer, and Milster wanted Wolf, the boss, to do something about it. Moore said this was at a time when Elliott and Wolf were not at odds.
Moore said Wolf told Milster, who had been employed by Local 110 for more than a decade at the time, that she "better keep quiet or the union would fire her."
Said Moore, "Margaret had been a friend of Fred (Wolf). She was essential to that office. If she couldn't keep her job, neither could I."
Cohen asked her why she kept silent, and didn't quit immediately after Elliott allegedly assaulted her by grabbing her, putting her on a table in the union hall, lifting up her sweatshirt and biting her breast.
"I was making really good money," she said. "I needed the health insurance."
She did not tell her husband for a month, she testified, because she was afraid he might take matters into his own hands.
Carlson told the jury that Moore, 54, had given different versions of the alleged assault to an independent lawyer hired by Local 110 and to two police officers who investigated the allegations.
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