Former employee files a sexual harassment lawsuit against an Athens company

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A former employee of an Athens company has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging she experienced inappropriate behavior from her direct supervisor.

Brooke Cunningham filed the lawsuit May 19 in federal court. Cunningham alleges she began to experience unwanted sexual advances one month into her employment as an administrative assistant at QuickLoadz Container System.

The company denies the allegations.

The misconduct began when Cunningham’s desk was placed behind her supervisor’s desk in their shared office, according to the lawsuit. The supervisor, Ash O’Brien, frequently touched Cunningham without consent and made several sexual comments, the lawsuit alleges.

Cunningham v QuickLoadz
Cunningham v. QuickLoadz lawsuit [Click the image to read the full filing].
Cunningham felt uncomfortable by O’Brien’s actions and approached the company’s chief financial officer, Bridget Lair, to share her concerns, the lawsuit alleges. Lair asked Cunningham if it was OK if the company’s chief executive officer, Sean Jones, was present.

Cunningham told Lair she feared judgment from Jones because of his employment relationship with O’Brien, and worried he would not believe her, the lawsuit alleges.

Cunningham and Lair spoke privately without Jones present, according to the lawsuit.

O’Brien frequently poked Cunningham’s ribs because he knew she was ticklish, the lawsuit alleges. Whenever she asked O’Brien a question, the lawsuit alleges, he rolled up his chair next to hers and placed his hand on her leg as he answered her question.

The lawsuit also alleges O’Brien placed his hand over Cunningham’s mouth and kissed his hand while it was on her face. He allegedly told Cunningham he wanted to “smack her ass” every time he entered the office behind her, and that he had to “resist the urge” to do so every time.

Lair told Cunningham she would talk to O’Brien about what conduct was appropriate in the workplace, the lawsuit alleges.

Immediately after, O’Brien and Lair began retaliating against Cunningham, and QuickLoadz took no action to address the harassment, the lawsuit alleges.

O’Brien and Lair’s tone became hostile toward Cunningham, the lawsuit alleges. If Cunningham called off work and notified another manager but not O’Brien, he would report her as a no show, putting her at risk for disciplinary action, the lawsuit alleges.

Lair allegedly began nitpicking at Cunningham’s performance, the lawsuit alleges, which was not an issue prior to her complaint against O’Brien.

Three months into Cunningham’s employment, Lair fired her during a 90-day performance evaluation, the lawsuit alleges.

Asked about the allegations in the lawsuit, Jones, the QuickLoadz CEO, provided the following statement:

“Shortly before Brooke’s 90 day probation period Brooke came to Bridget and complained that another employee who she shared an office with was making her uncomfortable.  Bridget specifically asked if Brooke felt that she was being sexually harassed, Brooke responded no.
“To avoid further interaction Brooke’s work station was moved and at that time she said that was sufficient.
“At the 90 day end of probation Brooke’s work was reviewed by Bridget and her employment was not continued.
“Weeks after Brooke’s employment ended she then made the allegation that she was fired for reporting sexual harassment.
“Bridget finds it insulting to imply that she would fire anyone for reporting sexual harassment. It is Quickloadz contention, which we feel is amply evidenced that Brooke was not a good fit for the job and was not continued in employment after her probation period was up.”