Former Employee of Government Contractor Alleges Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
Complaint against global security firm depicts Mad Men culture at ‘guys with guns’ company.
Correction and update: The original story incorrectly stated that Jamroz was named as a defendant in the case. He was not, and the story has been corrected. The case was dismissed in August.
A former female executive at a large government security contractor has filed a lawsuit against the company claiming she was sexually harassed and then retaliated against by the firm’s leadership when she reported the alleged incident.
Nicole Watson, former vice president of business process and integration at GardaWorld, filed a Feb. 4 complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia claiming the president of one of the company’s corporate entities made multiple lewd and sexually explicit comments during a job interview, forcibly kissed her, and told her that having sex with him was a prerequisite for getting ahead at the firm. The incident, which allegedly took place in 2011, occurred against the backdrop of pervasive gender and pay discrimination at the “male-dominated, guys-with-guns” corporation, according to the complaint.
“Nicole was subjected to disgusting sexual harassment at the same time she was being pushed out of her job solely because she is a woman. That, alone, is egregious enough,” said Katherine Kimpel, partner at Sanford Heisler Kimpel, the firm representing Watson. “But the fact that the company proceeded to retaliate against her for failing to acquiesce to Company President [Chris] Jamroz’s conduct is shameful. That defendants threatened to spend millions of dollars to ‘ruin her’ and to ‘be pigs about it’ shows their true colors. Whatever this corporation thinks it can get away with in other countries, this sort of behavior will not be tolerated in the U.S.”
Garda, a global security and risk management company, is made up of GardaWorld International Protective Services, Garda Cash Logistics and Garda World Security Corporation. The defendants named in the case are Founding President and Chief Executive Officer Stephan Cretier, and President and COO Oliver Westmacott.
The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the case or the allegations.
According to the complaint, the trouble started in 2010 when Watson claims Garda began “pushing out female employees” in leadership positions as it started moving jobs from its U.S. headquarters in Virginia (where Watson worked) to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Watson said she expressed desire to move into a leadership role in Dubai, but was denied the opportunity despite a successful eight-year tenure at the company. The complaint also alleged that the company reduced Watson’s bonuses, even though she and the company exceeded their individual targets in 2011, but did not do the same to men in similar positions. Top leadership also repeatedly gave her smaller pay increases than her male colleagues, and denied her an $85,000 bonus for fiscal 2012 -- after she reported she had been sexually harassed.
Watson eventually resigned from Garda in February 2012 because of the harassment, retaliation, and pay discrimination, and because she “felt repeatedly victimized every time she sat in a room with male leaders at the company, knowing that the company permitted them to mistreat, harass, and assault their female colleagues with impunity,” the complaint stated.
Watson had met with Jamroz in 2011 at Westmacott’s request, even though she was not interested in leaving GardaWorld for Garda Cash, the complaint said. According to the complaint, Jamroz scheduled a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, after business hours with Watson. During the interview, Jamroz allegedly told Watson she was “sexy,” that she needed to “move closer” to him at the table, and then, when he discussed her possibly taking on a regional sales manager role, commented that she “ought to have been creaming in [her] panties” over the opportunity. The complaint also alleged that Jamroz forcibly kissed and groped Watson during the meeting.
Kimpel said the case is like something out of the “Mad Men” era, referring to the popular AMC show depicting the chauvinist New York advertising industry in the 1960s. “It’s particularly unusual,” Kimpel said, in that it “shows disdain both for Nicole and our equal employment opportunity laws.” (Garda World Security Corp. is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, though its corporate entities have offices in the U.S.)
Watson is the only complainant so far in this case, Kimpel said, but in her experience, people tend to come forward when cases like this go public. When asked why Watson stayed at Garda as long as she did, particularly after the alleged incident with Jamroz, the attorney said Watson believed the company ultimately would support her. “The vast majority of women I represent do try and make it work. They think of litigation as a last resort. She [Watson] worked with them for a long time, and believed they would help her.” That was why Watson went to the interview with Jamroz in the first place. That faith, Kimpel said, “is pretty common, probably more than the alternative.”
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