OGDEN — A former associate dean at Stevens-Henager College’s campus in Ogden has filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuit, alleging her boss kissed and touched her inappropriately and that she was demoted after reporting the incident.
The suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by Lee Berger names as defendants the college; her former supervisor, Dr. Mario Merida; and Stevens-Henager Ogden Campus President and Regional Director Vicky L. Dewsnup.
Merida’s profile at www.linkedin.com lists him as the dean of Allied Health Sciences at Stevens-Henager’s Ogden campus.
Berger, who was formally program director and associate dean for Stevens-Henager’s surgical technology program in Ogden and Salt Lake City, is seeking at least $500,000 in damages for pain and suffering.
She currently lives in North Carolina.
In an email sent Friday evening, Eric Juhlin, Stevens-Henager College CEO, said, “Stevens-Henager College is committed to upholding the highest legal and ethical standards for its employees and all those associated with the school. We will have no further comment regarding pending legal matters at this time.”
The suit alleges that, on Dec. 2, 2010, Berger and other deans from Stevens-Henager traveled to Las Vegas for a school-funded meeting.
The next night, following a business dinner, a group went together to Fremont Street, a casino and entertainment district in downtown Las Vegas, the suit states.
As the night progressed, the other deans returned to the hotel and Berger found herself alone with Merida.
On their way back to their hotel, Merida offered to buy Berger a ring from a casino shop, but she declined the offer, the lawsuit states.
Merida suddenly grabbed Berger and kissed her while they were looking at a fountain outside the Aria Hotel, according to the suit.
“(The) plaintiff was shocked and appalled by Merida’s unwanted kissing of her, as Merida was not only her direct supervisor, but was also a married man,” the suit states. “In response, the plaintiff told Merida that his actions were unwelcome and highly inappropriate.”
Following the incident, Berger and Merida returned to the Monte Carlo, the hotel where they and the other deans were staying.
Merida kept pursuing Berger, who rebuffed his advances, and eventually forced his way into her room, the lawsuit says.
“In a panic, and terrified by the actions of Merida, the plaintiff climbed under the covers of her bed fully clothed, hoping Merida would leave her alone and return to his room without further incident,” the suit states.
“Instead, Merida climbed on top of plaintiff and touched her inappropriately beneath her clothing. Merida touched the plaintiff’s stomach, face and legs while kissing her.”
Eventually, Merida left the room and Berger locked the door behind him.
After the incident, Berger returned to work and began to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, the suit indicates.
“(The) plaintiff became physically ill, could not focus, and was horrified at having to thereafter face and report to Merida as her supervisor and assailant,” states the suit.
Berger also alleges that Merida gave her money and gifts in an attempt to keep her silent about the Las Vegas incident.
Berger contends she reported the incident to Stevens-Henager’s Human Resource Department on March 14, 2011.
“Plaintiff had waited to report this incident out of fear, embarrassment and humiliation, and did not want any of her colleagues to find out about the incident,” the suit states.
Berger took two weeks off from work, and when she returned to Stevens-Henager on March 28, 2011, she found that no formal investigation of the incident had been conducted.
Less than a month later, Berger maintains she was told an investigation had been completed even though she had not been interviewed.
She also learned she had been demoted by Dewsnup and would be reporting to an employee who previously had been her subordinate, the suit states.
Berger also alleges that, after returning to work, she was subjected to a hostile work environment, threatening emails and was made to feel like an outsider, prompting her resignation in July 2011.