Crime

It was a Puyallup woman’s first job. She was sexually harassed and told to ignore it, her suit says

It was her first job.

She’d recently graduated from high school, and in 2014 started working at a rehabilitation facility in Puyallup, where she helped prepare meals and plan activities.

Soon afterward, the workplace jokes about her started, according to a lawsuit the now 22-year-old woman filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court.

Then they became sexual and inappropriate, she said.

“It was like joking around, and then it wasn’t really joking around anymore,” the woman, identified in the lawsuit as C.N., said in an interview.

The News Tribune agreed to use only the woman’s initials because of the sexual nature of the lawsuit’s allegations.

The woman sued the Puyallup Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, part of a network of facilities across the West run by Prestige Care and Prestige Senior Living. Those companies are named in the suit.

Prestige Care said in a statement Friday: “We take these allegations very seriously, and as soon as they were brought to our attention, we took immediate action to investigate the issue and address our employee’s concerns. In this case, we immediately terminated the individuals who violated our policies, brought in new management, provided counseling services, and offered other accommodations to ensure the concerned staff member had many options for accepting our support.”

“We’re saddened that this employee decided to resign, and we stand by our commitment to maintaining a safe, nurturing place for our caregivers to provide quality care for our patients and their families.”

C.N.’s lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, gives this account of what happened:

The harassment started shortly after she started working at the facility.

A coworker regularly made vulgar jokes, such as about the young woman’s genitals, in front of a direct supervisor, who laughed along.

The coworker also grabbed C.N. from behind, slapped her butt, and regularly put his hands down her pants to fondle her. He also gave her wedgies, made her watch pornography on his phone and called her derogatory names.

Additionally, he sometimes left inappropriate gifts, including a sex toy, in her locker.

A manager C.N. spoke to told her to ignore the behavior, but she formally reported it and spoke with the human resources department.

The coworker and manager were fired, and the company told C.N. it would improve its workplace training about sexual harassment.

But other coworkers were angry with C.N. for speaking out. Then the employee who replaced the fired manager started harassing C.N., making sexual advances and trying to kiss her repeatedly.

C.N. told the head of the facility about the new abuse, but by then she “could take no more workplace abuse,” the lawsuit states.

She resigned in March, after working at the facility for about 2  1/2 years.

“Hopefully, if I speak up, more people will know that it’s not just them,” she told The News Tribune. “That it’s so many other people going through that.”

She said that, given the national news about sexual harassment allegations against various public figures, she thinks many people wonder why victims don’t come forward sooner.

Her answer: “It’s just something you have to work up the courage to speak about it. ... It’s just something that no one should go through.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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