Judge rules in favor of housekeeper

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 06:55 PM

Attorney Al McSurely is calling an administrative judge’s recent ruling that UNC failed to protect a housekeeper from sexual harassment a “wonderful victory” for his client and all university housekeepers.

McSurely made his statement just days after Judge Melissa Lassiter ruled that the university did not protect Maria Isabel Prudencio-Arias from being harassed by former housekeeping director Bill Burston and her former supervisor, Dallas Burnette.

 “It’s a groundbreaking decision,” McSurely said in an interview. “The university just basically dropped the ball on her claim.”

The university had no comment on Judge Lassiter’s decision Monday. 

Lassiter found that Prudencio-Arias, who still works at the university, proved Burston engaged in harassment, created a hostile work environment and retaliated against Prudencio-Arias for filing harassment claims.

Prudencio-Arias complained that Burston began sexually harassing her in 2006 by making sexual comments and suggestive sexual faces and that he showed up frequently at locations where she worked, constantly hugged or attempted to hug her and sat close enough to touch her.

She complained that Burston forced her to meet with him alone in his office with the door and blind closed and made sexual comments and gestures toward her.

Lassiter ordered the university to reimburse Prudencio-Arias for attorney’s fees and to place her in a housekeeping position free from retaliation and harassment from supervisors and free of any work she is incapable of doing due to medical restrictions.

She also ordered the university to amend and simplify its policies regarding the reporting of harassment, retaliation and discrimination to conform to state and federal laws.

McSurely said he plans to petition the State Personnel Commission, which will review Lassiter’s ruling and make a final decision, for compensatory damages of $160,000 for his client, who was depressed and suicidal as a result of the harassment and subsequent retaliation.

 “We’ll ask them to tack that on,” McSurely said.

He said his client told him that she is “happy the judge found I was not a liar.”