Hearing on housekeeper’s complaint begins

The hearing for a complaint brought against UNC by a housekeeper who claims the University was negligent in handling her sexual harassment case began Monday.

Maria Isabel Prudencio-Arias petitioned the University for not responding appropriately to her complaint against the former director of Housekeeping Services, who she claims began a retaliation campaign targeting her after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against her former supervisor, who was fired in late 2010.

“Prudencio-Arias was systematically a victim to drive her out of her mind and out of Chapel Hill — and the University was aware of this,” said her attorney, Al McSurely, at the hearing.

McSurely said Prudencio-Arias also received unwanted sexual attention from the former housekeeping director multiple times.

The University’s attorney, Katherine Murphy, said the University addressed the situation as soon as it became aware of the issue.

Prudencio-Arias filed her harassment complaint with UNC’s equal opportunity office. Formal investigations were carried out by Ann Penn, an Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act officer at the University.

“Each time there was some concern brought up, I addressed it,” Penn said.

The former director left the University last September, but the investigation was unable to determine if his actions could be classified as retaliation.

Murphy said he was not punishing Prudencio-Arias but had business reasons for some of his actions.

For example, Prudencio-Arias had to transfer to working at a residence hall from her former place of employment, the UNC School of Government, not out of retaliation — but because of her unsatisfactory work performance, Murphy said.

But McSurely said Prudencio-Arias was being punished for speaking out against her superiors.

“It was a terrible period the University made her go through,” McSurely said. “It wasn’t purgatory — it was hell.”

Murphy said the N.C. Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects workers who file complaints against their employers, does not apply in this case because Prudencio-Arias did not file a formal grievance through the University’s Office of Human Resources.

A person reporting sexual harassment has two options: To request an administrative review or file a grievance. Prudencio-Arias requested administrative reviews, which have concluded.

McSurely raised the question at the hearing of whether Prudencio-Arias, who speaks limited English, understood her options for taking action.

The hearing continues today and Wednesday at the School of Law.

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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