Lesbian alleges hostile work environment at knife company

Judge gavel and rainbow ribbon of LGBT pride on gray background.
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A Pennsylvanian lesbian who claims she was physically assaulted by a co-worker at a knife-manufacturing company where she worked is seeking her day in court.

“Jane Doe,” 32, of Bradford, Pa., worked in the quality-assurance unit of Microtech Knives Inc. from March 2021 to November 2023. The company is located in Bradford, a small town in McKean County in the north-central region of Pennsylvania.

In February 2024, Doe filed a federal antibias lawsuit against Microtech Knives, but the company is trying to have her case dismissed as meritless.

According to Doe’s 26-page lawsuit, her job duties consisted of ensuring a high quality of knife production at a factory where she worked. To the best of her knowledge, she was the only openly-LGBTQIA+ employee at the factory.

Doe’s problems began early, when a male co-worker allegedly expressed a romantic interest in her. Doe explained to the co-worker that she was “more into females.” Two other male co-workers overheard the conversation and laughed at Doe in a ridiculing manner, according to the lawsuit.

After Doe’s same-sex orientation became known, a co-worker “sabotaged” Doe’s work performance by switching tags that accompany knife parts. The subterfuge impeded Doe’s ability to oversee quality assurance within the factory, according to the lawsuit.

Doe complained about the alleged mistreatment to multiple officials within Microtech Knives, to no avail, according to the lawsuit.

After complaining to company officials, Doe was retaliated against by a machinist who allegedly assaulted Doe by bumping into her with his shoulder in a threatening manner, according to the lawsuit.

The alleged physical assault occurred on Nov. 10, 2023. On the same day, Doe reported the incident to a supervisor. She also asked the supervisor why various co-workers were treating her badly, as if they wanted her to quit. The supervisor allegedly told Doe he would tell her the reason, if she would sign a legal release protecting him from liability, according to the lawsuit.

Doe declined to sign such a release, according to the lawsuit.

Later that day, Doe resigned her position and subsequently filed an antibias complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency eventually granted Doe the right to sue Microtech Knives in federal court, according to legal papers.

Doe is seeking more than $150,000 in damages, along with a neutral job reference from Microtech Knives and LGBTQ-inclusive sensitivity training for its employees. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter and a jury trial has been requested.

In an April 30 pleading, Microtech Knives maintained its position that Doe’s complaint should be dismissed as meritless. The company alleges that Doe hasn’t shown she was treated in an unlawful manner. Even if her allegations are accurate, they don’t amount to violations of state or federal civil-rights laws, according to defense pleadings.

Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Doe, expressed optimism that Doe will prevail, if she has her day in court. 

“To hit or hurt someone at work is never appropriate,” Robinette told PGN. “Being physically assaulted at work because you’re a lesbian — even if it’s only one time — should constitute a severe hostile work environment. We look forward to our day in court to vindicate Ms. Doe’s rights.” 

Attorneys for Microtech Knives had no comment for this story.

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