CHARLESTON – The trial for a Putnam County woman who alleges she was sexually harassed while working for Better Foods Inc. has been continued.
In her lawsuit filed last year, Anna Marie Reynolds of Buffalo says she was sexually harassed by supervisor Paul Niedbalski while working for Better Foods, which is the parent company of Gino's Pizza and Tudor's Biscuit World.
The trial was scheduled to begin Monday before Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, but was continued just days before.
Better Foods is owned by Putnam County businessman and former lawmaker Oshel Craigo.
In the complaint, Reynolds says she was "subjected to unwanted and uninitiated sexual advances, inappropriate touching, suggestions, innuendos, comments and threats of adverse employment actions" by Niedbalski despite her repeated requests to stop.
Reynolds also says Better Foods and its supervisors, including Craigo, were aware of the harassment but "took no action effectively limiting, prohibiting or discontinuing" it.
In addition, she alleges Niedbalski and Better Foods discriminated against her because of a disability and created a hostile work environment because of her sex. She further alleges Niedbalski assaulted her and that the defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her and wrongfully discharged her.
She also claims Better Foods breached its duties by refusing to process a request for disability benefits and denied her workers' compensation.
Reynolds worked for Better Foods at its main office in Nitro from Dec. 8, 1996, to Feb. 26, 2004.
"Niedbalski subjected plaintiff to a hostile work environment … by demands for sexual favors, sexual innuendos, threats of discipline and termination of employment, physical and mental intimidation, inappropriate touching, lewd language, conduct and behavior, threats of physical violence, as well as profane and abusive language," the complaint states.
Court documents show a history of Niedbalski butting heads with other Better Foods leaders, including Craigo. Court papers include disciplinary memos addressed to Niedbalski.
"Your inability to conduct yourself in a more professional manner, along with your confrontational style of leadership, makes it impossible for us to condone your supervisory role," one memo from Craigo says.
Before she began working for Better Foods, Reynolds was diagnosed with fibrositis and fibromyalgia.
"Niedbalski intentionally and negligently refused to provide plaintiff with reasonable accommodations in her employment," the complaint states. "Niedbalski intentionally aggravated, caused and contributed to plaintiff's disabilities."
A large part of the case focuses on an incident that occurred Feb. 25, 2004, when Niedbalski entered Reynolds' office, "closed and locked the door behind him and stood in front of the door to prevent plaintiff from leaving the office … then began abusing plaintiff with foul and profane language, physical and mental intimidation and threats of physical violence," the complaint states.
"Niedbalski's actions and behavior were so onerous and threatening that plaintiff loss consciousness as she was attempting to force her way past Paul Niedbalski and exit the office, falling or having been pushed to the floor, and sustaining physical and mental injuries."
Niedbalski intended to "instill plaintiff, a slightly built 90-pound woman, with fear for her health, safety and well being," the complaint says.
His threatening actions, the suit alleges, "produced the intended effect and ultimately caused plaintiff to lose consciousness and fall while attempting to escape from the office where Paul Niedbalski had trapped her."
Reynolds says those actions were intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"Her disabilities were exacerbated and caused other disabilities such as major anxiety depression disorder to the extent that she was unable to continue gainful employment," the suit says.
It goes on to say Better Foods terminated Reynolds' employment on Aug. 2, 2004.
"This event has clearly proven to me that our deliberate and concerted efforts to improve your management performance have been, without question, unsuccessful," a memo from Craigo to Niedbalski about the incident said. The memo also says Niedbalski was removed from his supervisory duties after the incident.
Court documents also show Reynolds saying Niedbalski kissed her once and once ran his finger up and down her side.
The deposition transcripts also say how Niedbalski frequently picked Reynolds up, saying "look how light she is."
Reynolds also said in court documents that Niedbalski joked about her slight build.
"Look over there at Anna," she said Niedbalski once said. "Look how skinny she is. She's probably got AIDS. She needs to probably go for disability.
"That was really, really hurtful because I was down to 71 pounds when this incident took me down."
Reynolds says she later tried to apply for disability benefits under the company's benefit plan. But she says the company failed to or refused to process her application.
She also says she tried to apply for Worker's Compensation after the incident. But she was informed that Better Foods had not reported her injuries, so her application was refused.
Reynolds says she has suffered loss of income and benefits, emotional distress, medical expenses, personal injuries, humiliation, embarrassment, loss of capacity to enjoy life as well as pain and suffering.
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees, court costs, pre-judgment interest and other relief.
She is being represented by attorney Art Chmiel of the Charleston law firm of Bell & Bands. Niedbalski is being represented by Paul L. Frampton Jr. of the firm of Atkinson & Polak, while Better Foods is represented by John H. Tinney Jr. of The Tinney Law Firm.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 06-C-351