U.S. Security Associates’ Second “Perfect Storm” of Sexual Harassment: Lisa Garner’s Story

 

On October 26, 2010, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama rendered a final verdict against U.S. Security Associates (USSA) and its manager Christopher Hargrove for sexual harassment, retaliation, wanton supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and invasion of privacy.

The $2.3 million verdict brought justice to Alabama security officer Jamie Marks, who, the judge wrote, suffered from an ordeal that “spanned at least eleven months during which USSA, through the actions of its unsupervised state director Hargrove, subjected her to more than thirty occurrences of unwanted touching, repeated sexually-charged statements, and requests for various sexual performances from her.”

As the judge explained, “USSA’s cavalier attitude toward sexual harassment in the workplace coupled with Hargrove’s demonstrated proclivity for sexual harassment of vulnerable women under his supervision provided the perfect storm for the most egregious case of sexual harassment, retaliation, and tortious conduct that has been tried in this court.”

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, USSA employee Lisa Garner was going through a perfect storm of her own.

Lisa had worked protecting the Philadelphia Nursing Home for 10 years. Nursing home administrators thought highly enough of Lisa that in 2007, she became site supervisor, entrusted with training new security personnel. One trainee, and eventually her immediate supervisor, was Willard “Todd” Messer.

After completing his training, Messer allegedly began to harass Lisa. The harassment included repeated requests for dates, confessions of his attraction to Asian women, and offers to buy Lisa gifts. Messer’s alleged behavior could also be lewd. He often read material advertising strip clubs and talked about how his friend once bought him a “lap dance.” In plain sight he left his business cards for his side job, which entailed “Promotions and Scouting” for Hot Bod Girls Magazine.

Messer’s background is questionable, especially for a security officer. In 2004 The Indianapolis Star reported that at Messer’s house police found a loaded 9mm handgun on a desk–where a child could have reached it. The small children living in the house were placed in the custody of Child Protection Services. According to Marion County court documents, Messer– having knowingly or intentionally placed “a child in a situation that endangered his life or health”–was charged with Felony Neglect of a Dependent. He plead guilty of a misdemeanor charge and was given 331 days probation. Lisa’s complaints about Messer went unaddressed. Instead USSA removed Lisa from her post. Her last day on the job was May 26, 2011. The company never gave a reason for its decision.

In late July Lisa filed a complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation against USSA with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Her life has not got any easier. “I’m looking for work,” she says. “In this economy, it’s not going so well.”

Lisa has not been able to pay her rent since USSA got rid of her. Her landlord has been understanding and has not yet evicted her and her children. In early September, she was forced to apply for welfare.

The stress is overwhelming. “I can’t sleep,” she says. “I’m up all night. I’m just a mess.”

Lisa believes that sexual harassment is still occurring at U.S. Security and will continue to speak out. “It’s too much,” she says. “It needs to stop. Here I am about to lose everything and the man who did this to me is still collecting a paycheck. It’s not right.”

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