By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The hushed-up case of an African American man who claimed that his white female supervisor at the New York Stock Exchange told him that "black men like blondes," then sexually harassed, humiliated, and discriminated against him for complaining, will be decided by a jury.
In August 1999, U.S. district court judge Charles P. Sifton ruled that LeRoy Crawford, 50, had the right to sue the Exchange because it allegedly ignored accusations that Peggy Germino, head of the Qualifications and Registration Department, sexually harassed him after he repeatedly rejected her advances from 1993 to 1995. Crawford was a registration specialist in the department, and his job was to review the applications of traders wishing to become members of the Exchange. While the ruling, stemming from a 1997 complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was not sealed, both sides kept the explosive charges buried as they battled behind the scenes.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 18 in federal court in Brooklyn. Attorney Rudolph Silas, who is representing Crawford, said his client is demanding $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million for "special damages as a result of physical and mental injury." (Attempts to reach Germino proved futile.)
NYSE lawyers had argued that no sexual harassment or retaliation took place and asked that the charges be thrown out since "incidents of sexual harassment were not allowed to continue unremedied by the Exchange." But in the 45-page ruling, obtained by the Voice, Judge Sifton concluded that "evidence suggests that Ms. Germino persistently made sexual advances or sexual comments to [Crawford] and that, far from ceasing her conduct when she saw that it bothered [him], continued in an effort to degrade him." Crawford's charges, he added, could lead "a reasonable jury [to] conclude that [he] suffered from specific and related acts of discrimination" due to the alleged sexual harassment, which made him "uncomfortable."
Lawsuits in which a man accuses a woman of sexual harassment are very rareand even more unusual when the accuser is black and the alleged harasser is white. According to the ruling, Crawford claimed in a deposition that from 1993 to 1995, while he was training with Germino, she "would wait until she was alone with [him] and rub her legs or her breasts up against [him]." When Crawford, who is married and has a daughter, objected and shied away, the bullish Germino "would ask whether [he] was uncomfortable with what she was doing." Sometimes, he stated, Germino would "run her hands up her skirt, partially exposing herself" to him. The supervisor's seductive behavior allegedly attracted the attention of one of Crawford's co-workers, who told her on one occasion that she was exposing her legs. "It's nothing anyone hasn't seen before," Germino reportedly responded.
Between 1994 and 1995, Germino allegedly began to ask Crawford about several women she had seen him talking to outside of the Exchange. "[Crawford] took this to mean that she was jealous of [his] attention to other women," the judge said. Crawford alleged that during another encounter, Germino, while (in the judge's words) "fluffing her blonde hair," declared, "Black men like blondes." Still Crawford said he resisted. Then, according to Crawford, Germino "questioned his manhood," telling him, "Lee, why don't you just grow up and act like a man." In December 1995, he said Germino gave him a bottle of Avon cologne as a Christmas gift and told him "if there were mistletoe, she would give him a kiss."
The alleged sexual harassment continued through 1996. Crawford claimed that one day while walking to a meeting at Merrill Lynch, Germino commented that "the two of them looked good together." Later that year, he charged, as they went to check out a condominium across the street from the Exchange, Germino suggested that they "pose as husband and wife." He asserted that her behavior grew more erratic. When she asked him to lend her $100, he said, "upon receiving the money, [she] placed it in her cleavage."
As LeRoy Crawford prepared to face Peggy Germino in court, he recalled in an interview with the VoiceGermino's alleged attempts to berate him after he spurned her overtures.
"It became clear to me that the more I rejected her sexual advances, the more Ms. Germino made it difficult for me," he said. She began to retaliate, he added, "by requesting that I do personal things for her. She asked me to get her coffee, deliver Avon products, even to make deposits to her personal checking account. She became more possessive and jealous. It got to the point that the only way I could avoid her was to take long walks away from the NYSE area. I would walk as far as Battery Park to avoid the feeling of being stalked by her. After working in the department one year, I tried to [get] out of the department. When she found out, she told me that I could not post for a position without informing her first. I started having difficulty sleeping, and experienced weight loss. I talked to my wife and friends; I felt I had no way out."
The alleged retaliation took many forms as Germino "became angry and hostile toward me." According to the court ruling, Crawford claimed that sometime between 1993 and 1994, Germino ordered him to review the military records of an NYSE applicant "who had been disciplined for having homosexual relations." Inevitably, Crawford said, she began to attack his work performance.