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Women Protest Sex Harassment At Time Life in Va.
Four current and former female employees of Time Life Inc. in Alexandria, Va., including a former associate publisher, have filed suit against the company, alleging a longstanding pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination by their supervisors, particularly Terry Newell, v-p and publisher of Time Life Custom Publishing.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, seeks for each of the women $1 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. A jury trial is sought.
The plaintiffs are Teresa Hartnett, who was associate publisher, and was for many years rights director at John Wiley; Phyllis Gardner, formerly director of new business marketing; Rebecca Wheeler, former director of marketing; and Laurin Ensslin, sales director. Only Ensslin is still employed at the company.
The suit says that Newell, together with his subordinates, sales director Neil Levin and v-p Michael Hurley, "fostered a work environment permeated by sexual overtones and actions. In order for a woman to succeed, she had to engage in sexual banter, flirtatiousness and demeaning conduct." This behavior occurred on an almost daily basis, according to the suit.
A Time Life lawyer in Alexandria referred PW for comment to New York, where a spokesperson said the papers had not yet been officially served, and that therefore no comment was available. The women's Virginia lawyer, Patricia Smith, said the suit was filed on Friday, April 3, and would be served "in the course of business." She added that if Time Life wished to see it sooner, they could immediately obtain a copy at the nearby courthouse.
Hartnett said that when she was hired she was asked if she planned to become pregnant. On another occasion, she was sent out to buy a sexy lace bra for a "business awards" ceremony. On another occasion, at which then company president John Hall was present, there was a discussion of actress Demi Moore's breasts. She said comments by Newell about women and their bodies were made almost daily, and women were referred to as dumb, ditsy or airheads; those who complained were described as "hormonal." At an ABA meeting in 1994, Newell passed out condoms as part of a "survival kit," to both men and women. He regularly referred to women as "babes" and "hot pants."
Complaints were made by a number of women, but no action was taken by Time Life, the suit said. When Hartnett complained -- as early as 1995 -- to Newell and Hall that there were sex and age discrimination issues in the company, she claims she was "frozen out." She complained to Human Resources, she said, but Newell immediately learned of her complaint, and the atmosphere became so hostile she was eventually forced to resign. She is now a publishing consultant.
"I was characterized as a hater of fun-loving people," Hartnett told PW. "It seemed to me that Time Life was like the Galapagos Islands, where mutant behavior was treated as the norm."
Gardner and Wheeler said their age (both are older women) was often remarked on and joked about. When Ensslin became pregnant, she said, additional and unrealistic demands were placed upon her. All the women also complained of pay that was not equitable with that of men in similar positions.
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