CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County woman is claiming West Virginia Advocates, Inc., violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act regarding a sexual harassment cover-up in 2004.

Deborah Toler states in a lawsuit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on Jan. 31 that she was forced to take a demotion because of the incident and is now demanding monetary compensation.

"Any reasonable person in the Plaintiff's situation would also have resigned his or her position," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiff's salary decreased dramatically as a result of being forced to accept a demotion."

The trouble started in early 2004 when Toler says she was in the company's office, located on Quarrier St. in Charleston, along with Executive Director Robert Peck and Administrative Director Barbara Criner.

Toler claims Peck had obtained employee satisfaction surveys that had been filled out anonymously before they were to be sent to the company's board members. Noticing several contained complaints of sexual harassment by Peck, Toler says he conspired with Criner to change the evaluations.

She also claims that Peck begged her not to reveal what he had done, saying it would ruin his family and career as well as put her job in jeopardy.

The next morning, the complaint continues, Toler informed a board member of what she had seen. Shortly after, Peck's pay was reduced and he was reprimanded. He was also forced to apologize, Toler says.

Toler claims that on the same day Peck received his punishment, he confronted her in her office and told her that he knew she was the person who had told the board. He added, "'Your punishment is you still have to work with me.'"

"Subsequently, Defendant Peck began a pattern of engaging in harassing conduct toward the Plaintiff in an effort to retaliate against her for engaging in protected activity under the Human Rights Act," the complaint states. "The Administrative Director also engaged in harassing conduct toward the Plaintiff…"

Toler claims she notified the board of this activity, but it refused to address the situation "and created and/or contributed to an environment where such illegal conduct was condoned."

In April of 2004, Toler says she was forced to seek and accept a demotion so she might have been able to avoid working with or around Peck in an effort to end Peck's retaliation. As a result, Toler says she has suffered "indignity, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, annoyance and inconvenience, as well as being forced to work at a decreased salary.

Toler has held the positions of Advocate, Lead Advocate, Program Director and Interim Executive Director since starting at West Virginia Advocates in September of 1992. She is represented by Mark A. Atkinson of Charleston's Atkinson, Mohler and Polak, and also lists Peck as an individual as a defendant.

She is seeking compensation for damages. Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib has been assigned the case.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-168




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