Former Ohio State employee files sexual harassment lawsuit against university

The Lantern
A former Ohio State employee filed a lawsuit against the university March 28, claiming it failed to address complaints that his department director sexually harassed him after learning of his sexual orientation. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

A former Ohio State employee filed a lawsuit against the university March 28, claiming it failed to address complaints that his department director sexually harassed him after learning he was gay.

According to the complaint, Stephen Kuntz — former Buckeye Link counselor in Student Academic Services — resigned from his job in January 2020 after he claimed Ohio State did not remedy the hostile work environment he experienced from Student Services Associate Director Sam Falcone.

After Kuntz revealed his sexual orientation to coworkers, he claimed Falcone — who is also openly gay, according to the lawsuit — made unwelcome advances upon him, including making suggestive verbal remarks and touching Kuntz without his consent .

“[Ohio State] knew or should have known of the harassment and hostile work environment yet did not take immediate or corrective action,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit stated Ohio State’s actions violated Title VII , which prohibits unlawful discrimation against someone based on their race, color, national origin, sex — including sexual orientation — or religion.

Elizabeth Tuck, Kuntz’s trial attorney, said in an email it is unfortunate that Kuntz had to file a lawsuit for “the University to take the situation seriously.”

Kuntz looks to be reinstated to his job, awarded damages and awarded present, past and future lost compensation and benefits, according to the lawsuit.

University spokesperson Chris Booker said in an email the allegations stated in the complaint were not reported to the university until Kuntz’s exit interview on the last day of his employment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Ohio State’s Office of Institutional Equity both reviewed the allegations and found no evidence of a violation.

According to the lawsuit, Kuntz revealed his sexual orientation to coworkers, including Falcone, in March 2019. After that, the lawsuit stated Falcone began harassing Kuntz.

The lawsuit stated Falcone told Kuntz that he had a sexual dream about him, made comments about Kuntz’s legs and called him a “stud,” among other things. It also claimed Falcone would go out of his way to be near Kuntz, at times nonconsensually touching him.

The lawsuit claimed Falcone did not behave this way with heterosexual employees.

Falcone did not respond to a request for comment.

Kuntz was afraid to report his harassment, according to the lawsuit, because of what he said was Falcone’s history of “terminating, promoting, or demoting employees at whim.” The lawsuit stated Kuntz feared he would be fired or blocked from promotion if he stopped personal communication with Falcone.

The lawsuit claimed other employees reported Kuntz’s behavior to management, but it does not specify which employees or when.

The lawsuit claimed Kuntz told human resources about the sexual harassment during his exit interview, but Ohio State endorsed the resignation, allowing Falcone to work for the university for eight months while the case was investigated. The lawsuit argued Ohio State concluded that Falcone “may have engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct,” but no action was taken or needed.

Tuck said Kuntz hopes the complaint can inspire others to stand up to hostile work environments.

“He hopes that taking a stand will encourage others to speak out when managers or others abuse their power for self-gratification,” Tuck said.

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