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Former MdTA officer awarded $130K in sexual harassment case

A federal jury has awarded more than $127,000 to a former Maryland Transportation Authority police officer who alleged she was sexually harassed by her instructor while in police academy and then fired for complaining about her treatment to superiors.

Renee Basil will receive more than $91,000 from the MdTA and $36,000 from retired Officer Michael A. Noel, who later was fired from a contracting job with the agency, according to one of Basil’s lawyers.

Basil attended MdTA’s police academy between August 2007 and December 2008. She alleges that Noel singled her out from her male colleagues “and continuously and frequently made inappropriate gender-based comments” to her. Noel once “peppered Basil with inappropriate questions regarding her relationship status”; when Basil said it was none of his business, he made her do push-ups in front of another supervisor, according to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in February 2012.

Noel continued to send Basil personal emails and text messages, including asking if she were interested in dating him, the lawsuit states. Basil alleges that she reported the incidents to a supervisor in late 2008, but was told “to pick her battles and not make waves.”

The response left Basil “disappointed and fearful” that further complaints could jeopardize her employment and lead to more harassment from Noel, the complaint states.

During the eight-day trial before Judge Richard D. Bennett, Basil’s lawyers attempted to show the MdTA lacked a plan to deal with Noel’s behavior and contrasted that with Basil’s credibility, according to attorney Daniel P. Doty.

“Her superiors asked her, ‘What did she want to do?’ and put the ball in her court,” said Doty, a Baltimore solo practitioner. “That responsibility should not have been hers.”

Cheryl Sparks, director of communications at the MdTA, did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

According to the complaint, the harassment continued until Noel retired in March 2009. When Basil learned Noel was returning as a civilian contractor, she told a supervisor that June of Noel’s “incessant sexual harassment and demeaning behavior towards her and other women employees,” the complaint states.

Basil was fired the following day, ostensibly because she was no longer fit for duty due to a dog bite she had received in early 2008, which her lawsuit calls a “pretext.”

Noel, who had been an employee or contractor with MdTA for almost 20 years, was fired in October 2009.

A jury of five men and three women deliberated a total five hours over two days before reaching a verdict.

“She felt grateful to the jury,” Doty said of his client’s reaction. “She felt it was confirmation that she had been in the right.”

Doty and co-counsel Vinayak Saxena, also a Baltimore solo practitioner, plan to submit a petition for attorneys’ fees.

BASIL V. MARYLAND TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District Court in Baltimore

Case No.:

1:12-cv-0556-RDB

Judge:

Richard D. Bennett

Outcome:

Verdict for plaintiff of $127,146: $91,146 from the Maryland Transportation Authority and $36,000 from Officer Michael A. Noel

Dates:

Incident: August 2007 to March 2009

Suit filed: Feb. 22, 2012

Verdict: July 24, 2014

Plaintiff’s Attorneys:

Daniel P. Doty and Vinayak Saxena, Baltimore solo practitioners

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Sharon B. Benzil and Stephen W. Thibodeau, Office of the Attorney General

Counts:

Disparate treatment, hostile work environment, retaliation.