Polygram faces harassment suit

Ex-employee charging molestation by exec

NEW YORK — A former senior accountant at Polygram N.V. filed a sexual harassment suit Thursday seeking unspecified damages from the record-and-film conglomerate.

In a federal suit that his attorney, Sean F. O’Shea, filed in New York’s Southern District, Michael J. Hamilton, who worked in Polygram’s New York-based merchandising division, also named two male executives at Polygram, which is being acquired by Seagram Co.

The charges center on allegations that Hamilton was the victim of offensive remarks regarding his “behavior, attire and the like,” as if they “were indicative of homosexuality.”

“These remarks ultimately escalated into anatomical displays and references,” the suit states, “and physical molestation utterly inappropriate in a professional office setting.”

The suit also claims Hamilton was fired in November 1997 on what he says were trumped-up charges.

Just weeks earlier, Hamilton was involved in corroborating a co-worker’s complaint of anti-Semitic behavior by Peter D’Auria, Polygram’s VP of finance of merchandising and one of the two named executives.

When reached for comment, D’Auria hung up, saying: “I can’t give any information on that.”

The other named executive, Thomas Bennett, who as merchandising president serves as D’Auria’s boss, directed calls to a company spokesman, who said Polygram would have no comment before studying the suit.

Bennett is charged with allegedly calling attire worn by the plaintiff, such as a pink shirt and socks coordinated with other aspects of his outfit, “the type of clothes that a fag would wear.”

Hamilton attorney O’Shea, in explaining the decision to file, cited the Oncale decision handed down by the Supreme Court earlier this year: “That established male-to-male sexual harassment as actionable.”

“The conduct of these high executives in a major corporation was so beyond the pale it’s shocking,” O’Shea told Daily Variety. “You would think the entertainment industry, in particular, would be sensitive to alternate lifestyles.”

According to O’Shea, Polygram was apprised of his client’s complaints in a letter dated Jan. 15. The company responded, O’Shea said, by offering “an insufficient settlement of about $10,000 to go away.”

An incident detailed in the Jan. 15 letter has Bennett referring a question about a song to Hamilton “on the stated theory that homosexuals enjoy Diana Ross’ music.”

The alleged harassment was said to intensify in the summer of 1997, reportedly resulting in Bennett’s grabbing his crotch on meeting Hamilton at a photocopier and saying: “I’ve got a big one here. Are you interested?”

On another occasion, during which Hamilton was sipping a beverage through a straw, Bennett allegedly said: “Good work on the straw. Now come get on your knees and do it to me.”

D’Auria, who was Hamilton’s immediate supervisor, was said to laugh “and refused to take any action” on being confronted with his boss’ alleged sexual harassment.

The delay in the suit’s filing was attributed to the requisite review of the complaint by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which didn’t issue a “notice of right to sue” until June 9. The EEOC notice does not comment on the merits of the case but acknowledges that the regulatory agency has elected not to make the case itself.

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