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Post date: March 4 2011

A.G. Schneiderman Sues Mortuary School For Sexual Harassment And Pregnancy Discrimination

School President and CEO Sexually Harassed Numerous Women Over Multiple Years

Schneiderman: Students Attended School to Learn Science, Instead Got a Lesson in Discrimination and Harassment

SYRACUSE – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a lawsuit against the Simmons Institute of Funeral Services and its president and CEO, Maurice Wightman, for sexual harassment of female students and pregnancy discrimination. Simmons is a private for-profit institution offering instruction in mortuary science in Syracuse, New York.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Onondaga County Supreme Court, seeks to stop long standing harassment and discrimination at the Simmons Institute and seeks damages for women harmed by such conduct.

"This mortuary science program is one of only a handful in the state, leaving students with very few options to pursue their chosen field of study," said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The law guarantees everyone the right to pursue an education and career free of discrimination and harassment. My office will not tolerate women being shut out of educational or employment opportunities due to sexual harassment or discrimination.”

The investigation began after the Attorney General's office received multiple complaints about harassment and discrimination at the school. The complaints accuse Maurice Wightman, the President and CEO of Simmons, as well as an instructor at the school, of engaging in a pattern of illegal sexual harassment of female students for several years.

The harassment consisted of repeated and persistent touching, hugging, groping, sexual propositions, sexual jokes, and sexual comments directed towards female students. Simmons also discriminated against women in employment and education by maintaining a discriminatory policy excluding all pregnant women from certain aspects of the program without consulting with the employee and without sufficient justification.

These discriminatory practices deprive women of equal opportunity in education and employment in violation of state and federal law, including Title IX, which makes it unlawful for an institution receiving federal funds, like Simmons, to engage in sex discrimination in education.

Legal Momentum, a women's rights organization, praised the Attorney General's action.

Elizabeth Grayer, President of Legal Momentum, said: “A policy that assumes, without consulting with the women or their physicians, that pregnant women should not be allowed to perform certain kinds of work creates an automatic barrier to economic opportunity. It is completely unjustified and illegal. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for protecting the rights of women to participate fully in educational opportunities and in the workforce.”

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Kayla Gassmann, under the supervision of Spencer Freedman, Chief Counsel for Civil Rights.