State fines employer in Ashland sexual harassment case

The state labor board has ordered an Ashland man to pay more than $125,000 to a former female employee he is accused of sexually harassing, officials say.

State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered Michael C. Ruppert to pay 25-year-old Lindsay Gerken $2,713 in lost wages. Avakian then tagged on $125,000 in damages for the woman's mental and emotional suffering for a total award of $127,713.

"(The Bureau of Labor and Industries) will not allow employers to ignore fundamental protections for workers' rights," Avakian said. "Sexual harassment of this magnitude is a brazen violation of the law and the damages ordered here will clearly show BOLI's commitment to aggressively enforcing the law."

Whether Gerken will collect the damages is unknown, because Ruppert owes numerous creditors and is out of the country.

Gerken's award was for workplace harassment and retaliation she suffered during her less than three months of employment at Ruppert's company, From the Wilderness, Inc.

In Gerken's complaint she said Rupert fired her after she refused his sexual advances, Avakian said.

Gerken said Ruppert's continuing pattern of harassment began shortly after she was hired. Asked to engage in a sexual relationship with Ruppert on a Friday, Gerken declined and was fired the following week, said Avakian.

Gerkin and Ruppert could not be reached for comment.

— Sanne Specht

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