A.G. Schneiderman Announces Agreement To End Sexual Harassment And Discrimination At Syracuse Mortuary School
Simmons Institute Of Funeral Services Agrees To Pay $30K To Students And Employees Who Filed Complaints And Implement Reforms That Ensure A Safe Student Environment
Schneiderman: Every Individual Has The Right To A Workplace And Educational Environment Free From Harassment And Discrimination – This Kind Of Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated In New York
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed by his office against the Simmons Institute of Funeral Services and its president and CEO, Maurice Wightman, for sexual harassment of female students and pregnancy discrimination in education and employment. Simmons is a private for-profit institution offering instruction in mortuary science in Syracuse. Simmons and Wightman have agreed to pay $30,000 in restitution to students and employees who filed complaints regarding discrimination and harassment, and have agreed to implement systemic reforms that will ensure that the school provides a safe environment for all students going forward.
“It’s against the law to harass or discriminate against anyone in the workforce or in a school environment – and this kind of behavior will not be tolerated in New York,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. "Women should not have to endure sexual harassment or pregnancy discrimination, and my office will fight to ensure that no New Yorker is shut out of educational or employment opportunities.”
Attorney General Schneiderman's Civil Rights Bureau initiated an investigation and filed a lawsuit against the school in 2011 after receiving multiple complaints about harassment and discrimination. The complaints alleged that Wightman, who had been designated as the staff member to receive complaints of harassment or discrimination, maintained a practice of harassing female students, including making sexual comments and subjecting students to unwanted touching. The complaints also alleged that Simmons maintained a policy of barring pregnant students and teachers from certain activities at the school, even when doctors had confirmed that such activities were medically permitted.
Such discriminatory practices deprive women of equal opportunity in education and employment in violation of state and federal law. Under Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful for an institution receiving federal funds, like Simmons, to engage in sex discrimination in education, which includes sexual harassment. Under Title IX and New York State Human Rights Law, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy in both education and employment constitutes sex discrimination.
Under the terms of the settlement, Simmons, located at 1828 South Ave., will implement a new sexual harassment reporting policy, designed to ensure a fair and safe process for evaluating these claims, and has committed to raising student and staff awareness about the school’s prohibition on discrimination. Simmons will also report any future harassment or discrimination claims to the Office of the Attorney General, and Simmons and Wightman have pledged not to engage in any retaliation against any former students or faculty who participated in the Attorney General’s investigation.
Kristy Lee Witt, a former instructor at the Simmons Institute, said, “Women who seek employment in traditionally male-dominated industries often face difficulties, but it is important that unlawful discrimination and harassment be eliminated from fields like ours. I appreciate the Attorney General’s efforts to ensure that that is the case.”
Jennie Fullington, a former student at the Simmons Institute, said, “It is a huge relief to know that other women will not be subjected to the kinds of harassment and discrimination I endured in seeking an education in my chosen field. I am deeply grateful to the Attorney General for taking on this matter.”
Lenora Lapidus, Director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "Sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination have no place in educational and job training programs. We applaud the settlement that the Attorney General has reached, which not only addresses past violations but seeks to ensure that this behavior does not happen in the future."
The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Sandra Pullman and Monica Iyer, under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg and First Deputy for Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.
The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting all New Yorkers from discrimination and harassment. If you believe that you have experienced gender-based discrimination or harassment, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.