A swanky Nantucket yacht club recently lost its bid to end a lawsuit brought by the club’s former fitness director, who claimed that her dream job ended up becoming a nightmare of sexual harassment and retaliation.
Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Peter M. Lauriat denied the Great Harbor Yacht Club’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit of Stacy Fader, who claims she was fired in 2011 after complaining of inappropriate behavior by a member of the club.
Adding insult to injury, Fader alleges the club then tried to “bully” her into signing a release waiving her right to sue for sexual harassment.
Hired as director of the fitness center in 2008, Fader says two club members touched her inappropriately that summer and made offensive comments to her about her body and the bodies of other female employees.
When Fader reported the harassment to her supervisor, she was told to handle the matter herself, she alleges.
According to Fader, she complained to club management again after one of the members accused of misbehavior in the summer of 2008 continued to act inappropriately while receiving spa treatments in the summers of 2009 and 2010. The yacht club responded by hiring an attorney to investigate the matter.
As a result of the investigation, Commodore Louis V. Gerstner Jr. asked the member to apologize and temporarily stay out of the fitness facility. Fader claims that Gerstner, a former CEO of IBM, also asked her not to pursue her complaints any further, assuring her that the club would be open to taking additional steps if necessary.
Fader alleges that she nonetheless became “overwhelmed with anxiety and fear” with the thought that the member would be returning in the summer of 2011.
When she again expressed her concerns to management, Fader says she was told nothing more would be done to protect her and she was instructed to take a personal day. After she refused, she was informed that she would be terminated.
The yacht club claims Fader was fired because of job performance issues.
“When they went to fire her, they essentially tried to coerce her into signing a release,” says her lawyer, Stephen P. Griffin of Boston. “To her credit, she stuck to her guns and wouldn’t do that.”
Several weeks after she was terminated, the yacht club sued Fader in Superior Court, alleging she failed to perform her job duties.
“They really wanted this release, so they came up with this bogus lawsuit,” Griffin says.
Last September, a Nantucket Superior Court jury deliberated for about 20 minutes before rendering a verdict in Fader’s favor.
While the suit was pending, Fader had filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrim-ination. The MCAD found probable cause for Fader’s claims of hostile work environment and retaliation.
In March, Fader withdrew her MCAD complaint in order to pursue a private action in Superior Court. The yacht club struck back with an argument that Fader’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims are compulsory counterclaims under Mass.R.Civ.P. 13(a) that should have been raised in the yacht club’s lawsuit against Fader.
In denying the club’s motion to dismiss, Lauriat pointed out that state law required Fader first to file her employment discrimination claims with MCAD before asserting them in state court, meaning the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction over those claims at the time Fader filed her answer in the yacht club’s lawsuit.
Griffin says that the yacht club has shown no interest in settlement and that he expects to go to trial in 2015.
The yacht club’s attorney, Alan Garber of Mason & Martin in Wellesley, Massachusetts, declines to comment.