Syracuse, NY– A century old mortuary school has settled a sexual harassment and discrimination suit with the Attorney General’s office, and now the school says they will have to close.
The Simmons Institute of Funeral Services and its president and CEO Maurice Wightman agreed to pay $30,000 in restitution to employees and students, according to the statement form the Attorney General’s office. The school also agreed to institute policy reforms to prevent future incidents, according to the Post Standard.
Female staff and students allege sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination at the school. The lawsuit was initiate in 2011 by the Attorney General’s office after receiving numerous complaints.
“It’s against the law to harass or discriminate against anyone in the workforce or in a school environment,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “This kind of behavior will not be tolerated in New York.”
The complaints against the school allege that Wightman sexually harassed various women. Wightman, ironically, is also the faculty member who was designated to receive complaints of sexual harassment. The women who filed complaints said that Wightman subjected them to unwanted touching and made sexually charged comments.
The complaint also stated that Simmons prohibited pregnant staff and students from performing certain procedures even though their doctors gave the clearance to do so and were medically permitted. The lawsuit alleges that the policy was violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title IX which prohibits sexual discrimination in education.
Simmons has been open for 113 years and as the Post Standard reported, revolutionized embalming techniques and tools that are still widely used. This was one of the few facilities in the state that trained funeral directors.
Just days after reaching the settlement, Simmons announced they would be closing. In a statement, reported by the CNY Central, the Simmons said, “Simmons Institute of Funeral Service has proudly served the Funeral Service Community since 1900. The Institute is now in the process of teaching out and will close. We can no longer accept applications for admission. Thank you to all who have supported us through the years.”
Simmons added that the closure was not related to the sexual harassment settlement they negotiated with the Attorney General’s office.
“There is no connection between the settlement and the closing of Simmons Institute, which is due to the long-planned retirement and health issues of its principal,” a statement posted to their website reads.
The Funeral Services industry has long been a male-dominated profession, but that seems to be changing and the institutions that focus on education will have to take steps to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination on their campuses as women increasingly seek to enter this field. The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that at least 50 percent of mortuary science students are female.
Sexual harassment is far too common in schools and the workplace. Both women and men find themselves in situations where they were being harassed, but a sexual harassment attorney can help them put an end to this inappropriate behavior and also get compensation for their duress.