IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A former lab manager at a northeastern Iowa ethanol plant says last week's $1.4 million verdict in her favor sends a message that workplace sexual harassment cannot be tolerated.
Tina Haskenhoff said she hopes the Chickasaw County jury's decision changes a culture that allowed Homeland Energy Solutions plant manager Kevin Howes to make inappropriate comments about her and other women's breasts and to discipline Haskenhoff after she complained.
"When I complained, excuses were made for Kevin and nothing was ever done. They made me feel like it was my fault," Haskenhoff, 46, said Tuesday. "By their verdict, the jurors said, 'No, you cannot do that. That was wrong. She didn't deserve it.' I had been waiting so long for someone to say that."
She said she cried when the eight-member jury ruled unanimously Thursday that she suffered sexual harassment and retaliation at the ethanol plant in Lawler. Jurors awarded Haskenhoff $100,000 in back pay and $1.3 million for past and future emotional distress.
Her attorneys, Brooke Timmer and Roxanne Conlin, will next ask a judge to order front pay, coverage of attorney fees and changes including sexual harassment training for Howes, who remains plant manager.
Kevin Visser, an attorney representing Homeland Energy Solutions, said the verdict was tainted by improper jury instructions and that a new trial will likely be granted on appeal. He acknowledged there were "unprofessional and inappropriate and distasteful comments" toward women at the plant, but said they were addressed when reported. He said the company reprimanded Howes after finding its sexual harassment policy was violated.
Howes has no comment, said Homeland Energy Solutions CEO Walter Wendland, who expressed disappointment in the verdict. He said the company promptly responded to Haskenhoff's "non-physical harassment."