Lawsuit against Hufcor subsidiary alleges retaliation against employee

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Kevin Murphy/Special to The Gazette
September 29, 2014

MILWAUKEE--A former employee of Hufcor subsidiary Total Quality Plastics was sexually harassed for three years, was retaliated against when she complained and then was fired, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court by the the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Friday.

Katy Degenhardt worked as a machine operator at the Total Quality Plastics North Prairie plant when she was touched inappropriately on a regular basis from 2009 until she was fired in May 2012, according to the lawsuit.

One or more male shift supervisors or employees regularly grabbed Degenhardt.  One supervisor rubbed her breasts and a supervisor put his hands up her shirt, touching her breasts in view of another male employee, according to the lawsuit.

The harassment created a sexually hostile work environment that Degenhardt complained about to company officials, but Hufcor refused to take action, according to the lawsuit.

Instead, a retaliation campaign began against Degenhardt in April 2009, according to the lawsuit. She was denied breaks and opportunities to advance, and the company tried to cut her wages and assigned her difficult work. Co-workers backed Degenhardt's claim that she was disciplined for alleged infractions for which others were not punished, according to the lawsuit.

The retaliation continued until Degenhardt hired a lawyer, according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC investigated Degenhardt's claims and filed suit in federal court in Milwaukee when attempts to reach a settlement were not successful.

Hufcor's conduct violated federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment, according to the suit.

“Despite the focus on sexual harassment over the past 20 years, it continues to be an area which demands our attention-especially where women are working in male-dominated environments," EEOC attorney Dennis McBride said in a statement released Friday.

A Hufcor spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending legal matters but emailed a statement to a reporter seeking a response to the suit's allegations.

“The charges of a former employee of Total Quality Plastics were alleged to have happened while she worked at Total Quality Plastics in North Prairie, then a subsidiary of Hufcor, Inc. The former employee's concerns were taken seriously, investigated immediately and addressed in accordance with TQP employment policies.

“Total Quality Plastics operated as an independent company, which closed due to economic reasons in 2013. This matter is a dispute between a former employee and her employer, Total Quality Plastics.  

“The true facts surrounding this case will be revealed through the legal process. As with any legal matter, further comment on the issue at this time is not appropriate, Mary Scheibel wrote.

The suit seeks past and future pay related to Degenhardt's termination, punitive damages and  compensatory expenses for medical costs, emotional pain and suffering.

Total Quality Plastics closed its North Prairie injection molding facility in 2013, laying off 32 workers, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

The company said the closure was due to “changing business circumstances.”'

Janesville-based Hufcor calls itself the world's leading manufacturer of operable and accordion partitions.

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