Government & Politics

Federal employee in KC says boss created ‘sexually hostile’ environment: lawsuit

Five things to know about sexual harassment in the workplace

A new law that took effect in August makes companies, not individuals, liable for misconduct alleged in lawsuits. “You can sue the company but you can’t sue the harasser.”
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A new law that took effect in August makes companies, not individuals, liable for misconduct alleged in lawsuits. “You can sue the company but you can’t sue the harasser.”

An employee based in the Kansas City branch of the General Services Administration has sued the federal agency’s administrator, claiming senior management failed to take action after she alleged her former supervisor sexually harassed her.

The woman, who has worked at the G.S.A. since 1991, filed a federal lawsuit Friday against Emily Murphy, administrator of the agency, which handles real estate, acquisition and technology services for the federal government.

In her lawsuit, the woman, a 52-year-old Jackson County resident, alleged Charles Manger, associate administrator for the agency’s Office of Small Business Utilization, created a “pervasive and sexually hostile work environment” by commenting on women’s appearances. She also said in 2017, Manger touched her legs and inner thighs, according to her complaint.

But after the woman filed a complaint, the agency failed to take appropriate action, such as transferring her out of Manger’s chain of command as she requested, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri. She claimed the agency did not conduct a prompt investigation into her complaint. The woman also said she was retaliated against, derailing her career.

The Star does not generally name victims of assault or abuse without their permission. In her lawsuit, the woman alleged Manger inappropriately touched her.

Manger did not immediately respond to a call or email seeking comment Wednesday.

Manger became the woman’s direct supervisor when he was appointed to his position in June 2017, according to the lawsuit. A former UBS Financial Services financial adviser, Manger makes $168,000 at the G.S.A., according to a ProPublica database of more than 3,000 people appointed to their positions by President Donald Trump’s administration.

In her lawsuit, the woman claimed Manger made sexually suggestive and inappropriate remarks. Some of the alleged acts occurred in Kansas City while others were at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to one of the woman’s attorneys, Sarah Brown.

Among the accusations, the woman’s attorneys said Manger had been seen leaning over a woman in an “intimate fashion” in a stairwell. Manger also allegedly said one employee would be gorgeous if she weren’t pregnant, according to the lawsuit. He once asked the woman now suing to get the name of another woman he found attractive, according to her complaint.

The woman complained of discrimination and harassment in December 2017 to the labor relations office. She filed a formal complaint, which was amended in August 2018 to include additional claims, according to the lawsuit.

The woman has worked in administrative capacities at the G.S.A.’s small business office in Kansas City. She told several coworkers about her discomfort, something she said a senior manager witnessed during a meeting when Manger placed his arm around her, according to the lawsuit.

In one July 2017 incident, Manger intimidated the woman when he took her cellphone, preventing her from leaving work, according to her attorneys. The next month, he showed the woman and another employee pictures of women he had dated, she claimed.


How we did this story

The Star became aware of the federal lawsuit when a reporter sifted through recent court cases filed in the Western District of Missouri. The reporter spoke with one of the plaintiff’s attorneys and then called and emailed Charles Manger and a spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration seeking comment.

After the woman complained of Manger’s behavior, he “embarked on a campaign to disparage” her with her lower-ranking employees, according to the lawsuit. He removed her from a position and later gave her supervisor feedback that made one of her performance reviews inaccurate, her attorneys said in the lawsuit.

Because of the alleged working conditions, the woman sought a reassignment.

By mid-June 2018, Manger approved a 120-day detail the woman had been offered in the G.S.A.’s Integrated Award Environment office, according to her petition. But she was reassigned without her knowledge, a move that was a permanent assignment, not the “detail” that had been formerly agreed upon, according to her lawsuit.

The woman claimed Manger’s alleged behavior caused her stress and anxiety. It interfered with her work performance, she said.

The plaintiff’s attorneys claimed the G.S.A. failed to properly train employees about civil rights laws.

The woman has suffered economic damages, her attorneys said. The lawsuit, which claims violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, seeks $300,000 in damages.

The suit was filed against the agency because supervisors can’t be sued under Title VII as individuals.

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.