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Sexual harassment suits rock UM

A Toppel Career Center employee and a couple of her former coworkers filed two lawsuits against the University of Miami this week for allegedly ignoring their former boss’ ruthless behavior for too long.
Mariselly Chiroldes, the only plaintiff who is still working at the university claims UM officials repeatedly ignored complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination she brought against then Director of Toppel, Michael Gage.
Chiroldes values the damages she incurred at over $1 million.
Dulce Ramirez-Damon and Francesca Escoto-Zavala, who worked at UM from Aug. 1998 to January 2001 and Aug. 1999 to December 2000, respectively, allege in a separate suit that Gage sexually harassed the plaintiffs and several other staffers and created a hostile work environment.
They are seeking damages in excess of $15,000.
The university declined to comment on the charges, but confirmed that Gage was fired last summer.
The Hurricane was unable to contact Gage for comment.
In a prepared statement faxed by her attorney, Chiroldes said she filed the lawsuit hoping that her story won’t have sequels at UM.
“I was traumatized by the Internet and real-life pornography that surrounded me working at UM,” said Chiroldes. “It was like working at Porno U,” she added.
She claimed the working environment she endured while Gage was in charge harmed her health and that of her newborn baby.
“The central aspect of the bizarre, sexually hostile work environment was Mr. Gage’s blatant usage of Internet pornography websites, including those with hardcore content and other lurid types of pornography,” according to Chiroldes’ suit.
On numerous occasions, Mr. Gage allegedly squeezed her and pressed her face into his body, Chiroldes claims.
The plaintiff also claims Mr. Gage was once found naked in his office and would often act nervously whenever she entered his office, and would click-out of the frame being displayed on his computer screen.
The suit filed by the two employees who are no longer with the university concurred with Chiroldes’ account and provided further details including his alleged subscription to pornographic magazines delivered to his office as well as a package he received that contained a Polaroid shot of a man in underwear.
The plaintiffs claim Gage’s desktop background contained several pictures of nude men, which were in sight when his seven-year-old son came by the office.
Chiroldes claims she did everything in her power to alert university officials by complaining to her immediate supervisor and subsequently filing two grievances.
The school, she said, undertook little or no investigation for almost two years, although Gage was put on administrative leave for a short period.
In Aug. 2001, with police officers and technicians present, senior UM administrators supervised a search of the computers throughout Toppel, which allegedly yielded evidence of “pervasive pornographic activity.”
According to Pat Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, things at Toppel are back to normal.
“We haven’t missed a beat,” she told the Hurricane, adding she was extremely happy with the job Gage’s replacement, Jim Smart has been doing to date.

January 25, 2002

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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