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Federal lawsuit alleges harassment, retaliation by Baltimore transportation employees

A Baltimore County woman has filed suit against Baltimore city, claiming she faced workplace sexual harassment by a supervisor in the Department of Transportation and retaliation after she reported the alleged behavior.

Rhonda Knox, a transportation enforcement supervisor, was subjected to “heinous sexual harassment” by Fabian Lewis, deputy chief of the DOT Safety Division, between 2013 and 2015, according to the lawsuit, filed May 19 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

“The harassment took many forms, including but not limited to: lascivious comments, offensive touching of intimate body parts, and solicitation of quid pro quo sexual acts within the workplace,” the complaint alleges.

Knox is seeking $11 million damages for civil rights violations, including creating a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, lack of due process and equal protection, and related state claims, including negligent hiring and retention and assault.

Knox also claims Lewis retaliated against her by making abrupt changes to her work schedule when she reported his alleged behavior to another supervisor in 2014. Knox, who had recently been promoted, worried Lewis would get her fired during her probationary period.

In August 2015, Knox took leave from work due to anxiety, according to the lawsuit, and was fearful of losing her job if she made a formal complaint. She reported Lewis’ alleged behavior in December 2015 and claims the chief of the department, who is also named in the lawsuit, created harsh employment conditions by changing her schedule and increasing her workload.

During the course of the investigation into Lewis, at least 15 other women came forward to complain of similar misconduct, according to the complaint. Lewis eventually was given a letter notifying him he was being recommended for termination and he resigned.

“The practice of covering up sexual harassment by DOT employees is so widespread that it is a pattern and practice by the DOT, whose officials have repeatedly turned their backs on their own employees, ignoring numerous complaints and repeatedly allowing abusers to maintain their positions of authority,” the lawsuit alleges.

Knox is represented by Cary J. Hansel of Hansel Law PC in Baltimore. Hansel was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

The case is Rhonda Knox v. Mayor and City Council Baltimore City et al., 1:17-cv-01384-JKB.

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