Trumbull sexism claims justify independent review
No workplace in the public or private sector should ever resemble a bullying battlefield or a playground for sexual harassment.
That is a pillar of the #MeToo movement that has snowballed over the past year into a respected international movement to recognize and punish sexual harassment and misconduct that permeate the American workplace on a scale much grander than most once thought.
Locally, it also rises as an overriding premise of a letter of complaint penned by Trumbull County Planning Commission Director Trish Nuskievicz to the board governing the agency and to other county officials earlier this month.
In it, Nuskievicz reports she has suffered “serious work-related health conditions that have been caused from working in a very hostile work environment.”
She also accuses Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith and some of his asssocates in that office of actions and statements that she has perceived to constitute “psychological abuse, bullying, retaliation, discrimination and general harassment.”
As remedies, she’s requesting the assistance of the commission board and the county human resources director “to alleviate the consistent attempts to discredit, attack and dissuade me from execution of my job responsibilities and to target the elimination of my job.”
The root of the strife, she says, stems from her decision in September 2016 to deny a variance for a Liberty Township developer that would have saved the developer about $6,000 to $7,000 in construction costs.
In the months that followed, she said that variance denial based on following the rigid guidelines of Ohio law sparked badgering from Smith and county Commissioner Frank Fuda, highlighted by what she perceived to be snide remarks from Fuda about her sexual orientation. Nuskievicz is an openly gay married woman, whose wife also supported her claims before county commisisoners last week.
The planning commission director, who is now on a medical leave, said the hostility was aggravated by the transfer of a “key longtime employee” from her office and an unexpected reduction in her office’s budget.
Her complaint coincidentally comes on the heels of one filed last month against the county. In his civil complaint filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, former Safety Manager Ken Kubala said Smith had created a “sexually hostile work environment” and added that on multiple occasions, the engineer made questionable statements and conduct of a sexual nature directed at Kubala.
These two recent complaints shine a spotlight on the need for a thorough review of Smith and the propriety of his office operations.
As for Nuskievicz’ complaint, her letter is reportedly under review by the county prosecutor’s office. In addition, we would suggest that members of the planning commission board of directors and county commissioners launch an independent review of her claims and others against the engineer, and then issue findings and, if necessary, recommendations to ensure sexual harassment, discriminatory misconduct and other errant behaviors are nipped in the bud.
To be sure, however, not all tensions in the workplace can serve as grounds for formal “hostile work environment” challenges.
According to federal labor law, a hostile work environment and harassment occur when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Most certainly, prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors based on sex, sexual orientation, religion, physical disability or other protected areas must never be tolerated.
From a broader perspective, then, the unwanted spotlight shining on the county engineer and his office in recent weeks should serve as a wake-up call to all public- and private-sector managers to take proactive measures to create an atmosphere free of intimidation, coercion and bullying and to promote relative harmony and maximum productivity in their workplaces.