New London Day

EB Loses Case On Sex Harassment

By Robert A. Hamilton

Published on 5/16/00

A U.S. District Court jury has awarded a Glastonbury woman $750,000 after finding that she was subjected to sexual harassment at an Electric Boat work site in Windsor from 1994 to '96, when EB was dismantling a decommissioned Navy nuclear reactor prototype.

The seven-man, two-woman jury heard evidence for five days at the district courthouse in Waterbury and rendered a verdict in less than three hours that EB had not done enough to correct the situation involving Judith Dobrich.

But Dobrich said she will still appeal the decision by the judge in the case to throw out six of the seven counts in her lawsuit against EB, and to reduce the jury award to $300,000, the cap set by federal law. If juries can be trusted to make the right decision in capital cases, where a person's life is at stake, they should be trusted to make a proper finding in a lawsuit, she said.

"The hard evidence, the really damning evidence, was all thrown out," Dobrich said. After paying taxes and attorney's fees, she said she will realize about $124,000 from the judgment, while she suffers a variety of stress-related medical ailments that she said are a result of the case.

"I don't see out of one eye, I can't hear out of one ear, and I'm on total disability,"Dobrich said. "You tell me - did I win?"

EB spokesman Neil D. Ruenzel said the company could not comment yet on whether it might appeal, because the situation is still under review.

"We're disappointed by the ruling, and we don't feel that sexual harassment was proven,"Ruenzel said. "We are presenting post-verdict motions, and discussing our options with our counsel."

Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory operated the nuclear reactor prototype from its construction in the 1950s until 1991, when it was shut down. In 1993, Knolls hired EB to restore the site to so-called "greenfields" condition.

Dobrich was hired in June 1994 as a laborer to move furniture and do other manual tasks. She had previously worked in human resources, interior design, sales and sales management, and held a degree in theology; she told the court that there was a shortage of jobs in her specialties, and she took the laborer job in the hope she could eventually transfer to a clerical position with EB.

From the time she was hired, she claimed in her suit, she was subjected to verbal and physical harassment, including an incident on Aug. 24, 1994, when another worker kicked a chair at her, injuring her wrist. The co-worker denied the incident, and Dobrich did not initially miss any work, although the wrist grew progressively worse, and seven months later, she underwent surgery.

There were several other incidents where people made sexually graphic comments to her, or left graphic materials where she could find them.

In 1995, after she was laid off, Dobrich filed complaints with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit listed seven counts: age discrimination (she was 51 when she was laid off); violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because of her wrist injury; two counts related to retaliation; one count for intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent supervision; and sexual harassment.


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