A former stage carpenter is suing the Metropolitan Opera (the “Met”) in a Manhattan federal court, asserting causes of action for sexual harassment, retaliation, and other claims under state and city anti-discrimination laws. Her complaint alleges numerous acts of harassment and discrimination by co-workers, including unwanted sexual comments, unwanted advances, potentially dangerous pranks, and assault.
Teri Orsburn achieved what she described as a childhood dream when she began working for the Met as a stage carpenter, starting part-time in the summer of 2008 and going full-time in June 2009. At the time, she was the Met’s only female carpenter, and she claims to be the first woman in the Met’s 128-year history to work a full opera season as a stage carpenter. She states in her complaint that she worked in entertainment production for more than thirty-five years prior to working at the Met. She also had extensive experience in jobs requiring physical labor.
She alleges that she began to endure “rampant sexual harassment and discrimination,” Complaint at 3, from certain male co-workers almost as soon as she began working for the Met. Her direct supervisor allegedly addressed and referred to her exclusively as “Girl.” Orsburn contends that this conduct, by a respected senior supervisor, encouraged others to treat her poorly and contributed to a hostile work environment. Some co-workers allegedly made repeated sexual propositions, while others routinely questioned her credentials in a harassing manner.
Certain male co-workers also engaged in potentially dangerous pranks, according to Orsburn’s complaint. She alleges that colleagues would steal tools from her tool belt to keep her from doing her work. In one incident, someone screwed her tool belt to the stage deck, preventing her from picking it up. She also claims she found Superglue in the padlock of her stage locker and in her tool belt.
Orsburn identifies one colleague, Arthur Barnett, as subjecting her to worse harassment than her other colleagues. She alleges that he engaged in daily verbal harassment and gave her incorrect work instructions that could have led to physical injury. He also allegedly pushed and shoved her and tried to grab tools and other items from her, causing minor injuries. Even her other colleagues were uncomfortable with Barnett’s conduct, Orsburn claims. After several complaints to the union did not resolve the matter, she claims Barnett became more brazen in his harassment, culminating in an alleged physical assault on September 14, 2011 that rendered her unable to perform her job. She alleges that she continues to have physical symptoms from the assault.
Her lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, names the Met and Barnett individually as defendants. She asserts thirteen causes of action including sexual harassment and retaliation under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. She also asserts claims for assault, battery, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress against both defendants. She is seeking unspecified damages.
The lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in New York City and surrounding areas, fighting to protect their rights at the municipal, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
Complaint (PDF file), Orsburn v. Metropolitan Opera, et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, September 14, 2012
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Photo credit: ‘A full house, seen from the rear of the stage, at the Metropolitan Opera House for a concert by pianist Josef Hofmann,’ 1 – NARA – 541890 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.