Former employee sues USC for wrongful termination
For 12 years, Nathalie Gosset worked for USC’s Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering, most recently as a senior director of marketing and technology innovation evaluation. When she was fired in October 2015, she spoke up about a string of abuse that she said had been going on almost as long as she had been working there.Photo courtesy of the American Association of University Women Legal Action FundApproaching arbitration · Nathalie Gosset worked at the Alfred E. Mann Institute until October 2015, when she was fired by the University.“I can tell you I got traumatized by the environment and by [my boss],” Gosset said. “I still have strong difficulties to even drive around USC — I have traumatic reactions [and] fear.”Gosset has filed an arbitration demand against the University claiming that her employment was wrongfully terminated after she reported being sexually harassed by her boss, the executive director of the institute. She initially filed a lawsuit against her former boss and the Alfred Mann Institute on Feb. 23.“He used a lot of sexual terms and imagery in meetings and in one-on-one conversations with me,” Gosset said. “He did not touch me, but the verbal and sexual conversation ended up being strong, severe bullying.”The arbitration demand was filed against Gosset’s former boss, the Alfred Mann Institute’s head of human resources, the institute and USC.USC has since released a statement from Kelly Bendell, the University’s associate general counsel of litigation.“The allegations in the case of Nathalie Gosset are without merit. The university will defend itself and those named in the suit vigorously,” the statement said.Gosset said the harassment started soon after he joined the institute, and that while she attempted to mention it to the human resources department several times, she was disregarded.In February 2015, Gosset finally reported a verbal attack in her boss’ office “that was extremely inappropriate and very upsetting,” she said.The suit states that the executive director supposedly became annoyed with Gosset during a seminar when he was presenting a product idea to the senior management team in the room and she “stepped in to facilitate the questions and answers as she was tasked to do.” After the meeting, the document states, her boss leaned in toward her “in a menacing fashion” and allegedly said, “‘Your intervention in the meeting was blocking me from having an intellectual orgasm. You should be quiet, let me do my thing, and go and take a shower afterward.’”The document also mentions that when Gosset reported his conduct to an HR representative, the representative responded that “her reaction was the result of a fictional annoyance toward the speaker at the seminar” and “abused Gosset with a campaign of disdain and adverse employment action.”In an HR meeting following the incident, the executive director allegedly said that he could not guarantee that he would be able to contain his “sexually bullying behavior because the bully was in his blood,” according to the document.Gosset said that for months after the HR meeting, her boss treated her coldly and refused to speak to her, impairing Gosset’s ability to do her job. When Gosset talked to the HR representative about the rough treatment and distant behavior, the representative allegedly said that her worries were projections of “unresolved father-daughter issues,” which she needed to sort out.In October 2015, Gosset was relieved of her position.“I was presented termination papers on the grounds that my job function was eliminated,” Gosset said.Gosset’s lawyer, Lisa Bloom, has built her case on the grounds that USC failed to adequately handle a sexual harassment complaint.“We allege that USC failed to comply with its own written policy, because when Nathalie complained about being sexually harassed by her boss, USC failed to investigate [and] failed to protect her,” Bloom said. “In USC’s written policy about sexual harassment, it says that USC is supposed to do a prompt, thorough investigation within 60 days -— well, 60 days came and went; they didn’t do anything, [and] Nathalie got fired.”Bloom said that they wrote a letter after Gosset retained Bloom and her law firm, but USC still failed to investigate the matter.“They did nothing but delay and delay, told us they had other priorities and [said that] they just couldn’t get around to Nathalie Gosset who they had terminated,” Bloom said. “We then sued them, and only then did they claim to do an investigation. Of course they found that nobody did anything wrong, even though in their investigation they failed to even interview Nathalie Gosset, the complainant.”Bloom hopes for a multimillion dollar compensation for Gosset, or at least an amount based on Gosset’s lost earnings, lost benefits and “substantial emotional distress.”“This should be something that’s very significant and should require USC, when it gets a complaint like this, to take it very seriously,” Bloom said. “[USC needs] to make women’s careers a priority, and to stop telling women that these issues are not important, [that] everything else is going to come first, and ‘We’ll get around to it when we get around to it.’”The case will be heard in court in June of next year.