An article in the Business section on Tuesday misstated what has been accepted as an undisputed fact in a sexual-harassment case brought against the Securities and Exchange Commission. It should have said that a supervisor at the Washington enforcement office admitted to a sexual relationship with a secretary who received promotions and cash awards. The SEC did not stipulate who made the awards. (Published 6/25/ 87)
The Securities and Exchange Commission, an agency that usually brings charges against others, yesterday went to U.S. District Court to defend itself against allegations of sexual harassment in its Washington regional office.
The case was brought by Catherine A. Broderick, an attorney for the SEC, who alleges that sexual harassment so pervaded the environment of the regional office that it "poisoned the work atmosphere."
Broderick's suit alleges numerous instances of wild parties and sexual advances that took place at the Washington regional office between 1979 and 1984.
The commission has agreed not to dispute a number of those incidents, including that one supervisor had a sexual relationship with a secretary to whom he later gave a cash award of several hundred dollars, and that at an office retreat a manager came up behind a female employe, put his hands on her hips and told her she had "sexy, wide hips."
The SEC also did not dispute Broderick's claims that a supervisor went to Ocean City for a conference and was accompanied by his secretary, who was "not there for business purposes," and that a supervisor untied Broderick's sweater at an office party and attempted to kiss her on the cheek.
Such an atmosphere had a demoralizing effect on Broderick's work, Beville May, her attorney, said yesterday in court. Women like Broderick "knew that if they wanted to get ahead, they had to either sleep with the boss or put up with the boss sleeping with employes," May said.
Broderick's complaint also alleges that because she complained about the actions of supervisors she was transferred, denied promotions and given lowered performance evaluations.
The SEC has denied that the incidents constituted a hostile work environment. Benjamin Greenspoon, SEC ssociate general counsel, said yesterday that the testimony will show that Broderick's transfer was made "on the basis of good managment and common sense."
Greenspoon said Broderick was part of an office "grapevine" that met daily to spread gossip and rumors. "Her need to blame others . . . is not caused by external factors," he said. An expert will testify that Broderick suffers from a paranoid personality, he said.
Karen E. Nelson, a former SEC legal secretary, testified yesterday that John L. Hunter, former regional trial counsel in the Washington office, made comments about her clothes and body, making her feel uncomfortable, and told "crude, dirty jokes" in the office.
When Herbert F. Brooks Jr., who was assistant regional administrator for regulation at the office, offered Nelson a job as his secretary, she testified, he told her he liked his secretaries to socialize with him, having lunches and going for drinks, and he hoped her husband wouldn't mind. Nelson said she turned the job down.
Cheryl White, a paralegal for six of 14 years she worked at the commission, testified to the "obvious close relationship" between certain managers and their secretaries, noting that she didn't file an official complaint with the SEC because she was afraid of offending her supervisor.
Prior to filing a civil case, Broderick filed a complaint with the SEC's equal employment opportunity office. In a June 1986 decision, the SEC's EEO ruled said that "an atmosphere exists . . . where drinking and sexual involvements among staff are not unusual, and where most of it is engaged in by members of upper management." However, the report said that the atmosphere did not constitute sexual harassment.
In what sources said was an unusual move, former SEC chairman John Shad, now ambassador to The Netherlands, was questioned by lawyers concerning Broderick's allegations. In exchange for his deposition, he will not be called to testify at the trial, being heard by Judge John H. Pratt.
The Washington regional office, which was located in Arlington and conducted investigations into possible violations of U.S. securities laws such as insider trading, was closed in May and consolidated with the Philadelphia regional office.
Broderick is now in the division of corporate finance at the agency. All the male supervisors named in the complaint are still with the SEC except Paul F. Leonard, former regional administrator, who has retired, according to court documents.
Broderick's suit seeks a promotion to a position she claims she was denied because of sexual harassment, all available back pay and damages, including attorneys fees, and an injunction against the SEC and its supervisors ordering them to stop engaging in discriminatory practices.