Woman files civil suit against Keystone Real Estate Group, alleges discrimination, sexual harassment

lfalce@centredaily.comMarch 25, 2014 

An attorney for a woman fired from her job called her former State College place of business a “den of iniquity” in a recent civil rights lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Joseph Korsak, of Mazza Law Group, said he filed suit electronically Friday in U.S. Middle District Court against Keystone Real Estate Group, the parent organization of The Apartment Store. The suit claims his client, Amanda Thomas, was fired in 2012 for having a relationship with a female co-worker, something that didn’t happen to men who dated female co-workers.

The suit alleges violations of federal human rights law, Pennsylvania human rights legislation and a State College ordinance, “one of the few out there that protect sexual orientation,” Korsak said.

Keystone was contacted for comment on the suit Monday and Tuesday. A message left with the human resources department was not returned.

According to the civil action suit, Thomas, a leasing consultant until her Oct. 8, 2012, dismissal, was “subjected to repeated verbal attacks, discrimination, and was ultimately fired by Keystone’s Chief Operating Officer, Mary Frantz Adams, because of Thomas’ gender and because Thomas was engaging in a personal romantic relationship with another woman.”

The suit identifies that woman as Deborah Stewart, property manager at the Nittany Gardens office, where Thomas also worked. The two had been in a relationship since December 2011, according to court documents. The couple attempted to keep the relationship private, the filing stated, but they were spotted at dinner one night by an administrative assistant in their office. The next evening, the assistant called Thomas, asking her to stop seeing Stewart and, instead, become involved with her, according to court documents.

“Thomas rejected (her) advances, informed her that she would keep the conversation private and requested that (she) do the same,” the document details.

Instead, the woman later told Adams. The suit alleges that Adams reported the relationship to Thomas’ father; made a hostile phone call to Thomas, hanging up on her; and chastised Stewart for the relationship.

“Adams proceeded to express her disgust with gay relationships and told Stewart that she was infuriated at the thought of Thomas and Stewart kissing or engaging in any affectionate behavior with one another,” the suit stated. An internal investigation into the interoffice relationship was then conducted.

On Oct. 4, Thomas was transferred to Keystone’s downtown office, according to the suit. Thomas claims Adams told her at that time that further action would be taken if the relationship continued, the suit stated. Four days later, both women were fired separately, with termination letters that attributed the dismissal to drinking alcohol at a company pool party, the suit stated.

According to the suit, Thomas drank no alcohol at the party, but employees typically did drink alcohol at the employer-sponsored events. Three other employees were given written warnings for drinking at the party.

The suit also listed a number of other interoffice relationships that were tolerated by the company. All of those relationships were heterosexual, according to the suit.

Thomas also claimed in the civil suit that the company’s human resources manager, Matt Rager, was the focus of sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims.

The documents alleged vulgar comments by Rager regarding Thomas’ looks and sexuality and unwanted invitations. Stewart was asked to touch him sexually, according to the suit.

“Thomas and Stewart did not know how to report the harassment they were being subjected to because the harassment was originating from the manager of the same department ... that was charged with protecting them,” the complaint stated.

Another employee tried to coerce Thomas into using marijuana and cocaine, even texting pictures of the drugs, the suit alleged.

Korsak said the suit seeks monetary compensation for Thomas’ back pay, as well as money she should have earned going forward, and punitive damages. No figure has been established.

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