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Originally published November 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 10, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Former Goodyear employee awarded $4.4 million in harassment suit

A Seattle woman who claimed she was antagonized and harassed because of her sexual orientation at the Goodyear store where she worked and...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Seattle woman who claimed she was antagonized and harassed because of her sexual orientation at the Goodyear store where she worked and then was demoted after she complained about it has been awarded $4.4 million by a King County jury.

Daniel F. Johnson, the attorney for Melissa Sheffield, 47, said Thursday's jury award "sends a message to employers in Washington that discrimination and retaliation will not be tolerated." Sheffield, 47, began working for Goodyear in Seattle in 1994 as a sales representative and received promotions until she was made store manager of a Goodyear store near Northgate in 1999, according to the suit filed last year.

According to the suit, Sheffield neither hid nor flaunted her sexual orientation until her former manager encouraged her to bring her partner to an annual company dinner, where she received an "adverse reaction" from another store manager,

In 2003, her former boss was replaced by a new district manager, defendant Randy Reich, and a new service manager, David Johnson, was assigned to the store, the suit claims.

Johnson "immediately let it be known ... that he knew Sheffield was gay and did not like gays," the suit claims.

When Sheffield learned that Johnson carried a gun to work she confronted him about it and he confirmed it and threatened to pull it out and to urinate on her, she claimed in the suit.

Sheffield complained to Reich and when he took no action she went over his head and reported the conflict to human resources in Goodyear's corporate office.

The company investigated, corroborated the complaint and fired Johnson, according to the lawsuit. But she was demoted to assistant store manager and went from making $55,000 a year to $13 an hour, according to the lawsuit.

Because of a back injury she sustained at work before her complaint, Sheffield was unable to put in a full workweek in her new position, which required heavy lifting, and was ultimately fired, the lawsuit claims.

A representative for Goodyear could not be reached this afternoon, but in court documents the company argued that Sheffield's demotion stemmed from her own misconduct, including billing irregularities and "inappropriate kissing" of her partner in the store.

Jurors took two days to determine that Reich and the company had retaliated against her for making the formal complaint and failing to accommodate her disabilities.

"These events were devastating but I wanted to take a stand for my children and my community and I am grateful for the jury's courage and understanding," said Sheffield.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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