Former DHHR employee claims sexual harassment

CHARLESTON -- A former West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources employee claims his employer let sexual harassment episodes occur continuously in the workplace.

Michael Roller filed the complaint, which states a Kurtis Canterbury began to engage in sexual harassment, which included leaving gifts on Roller's desk, constantly asking to go to lunch when offers were turned down and one e-mail in which Canterbury stated "if he gets lonely he rents a woman and if he can't find one clean enough he blows up Sally, who has sprung a few leaks and makes rude noises during intimate moments."

In a letter, Roller was told Canterbury loved him.

On April 28, 2006, Roller went to his supervisor over the "bizarre sexual advances" that were being made by Canterbury.

The suit claims the DHHR did not take any action against Canterbury to remove him from contact with Roller.

Instead, the suit states, Roller was punished when the department took away some of his job responsibilities.

On June 14, 2006, Canterbury went to Roller's office, became emotional and then ran out crying. Roller's supervisor then admitted Canterbury had been in her office crying and that she had told him that Roller was "not his friend and to have no contact" but he would not accept that. In the meeting, Canterbury also told the supervisor he has written a love letter to another employee years ago, which forced that employee to leave the department.

Roller than expressed a concern for his safety, yet the DHHR refused to take any action.

The suit states "despite the face that the plaintiff made several complaints regarding the activity of Kurtis Canterbury, he continued his acts of sexual harassment, all of which the State of West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources tacitly or explicitly approved or accepted."

On Aug. 25, 2006, as a proximate result of the sexual harassment, Roller resigned his position due to emotional and mental distress he suffered as a direct result of said sexual harassment and, accordingly, was constructively discharged.

As a direct result, "Roller suffered great humiliation, severe emotional distress and has been degraded and embarrassed in his status as a person, as a male and as a dedicated and highly capable employee of the DHHR."

Roller says the actions and conduct of the defendants were willful, intentional and malicious in character so as to justify the award of punitive damages.

The suit seeks judgment against the defendants jointly and separately for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as costs, attorney fees and any other relief the court feels is just.

The case has been assigned to Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-2722

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