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Businessman fined in sexual harassment case

 Posted: 9:03 AM September 25, 2009

The state labor board has ordered author and conspiracy theorist Michael C. Ruppert, to pay more than $125,000 to a former female employee he was accused of sexually harassing.

State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, ordered the former Ashland businessman to pay Lindsay Gerken $2,713 in lost wages. Avakian then tagged on $125,000 in damages for the woman’s mental and emotional suffering for an 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 can collect the money is unknown, as Ruppert owes other creditors and has left the state, he said.

Avakian said Gerken was fired a week after Ruppert asked her to have a sexual relationship with him and she refused.

The most startling incident occurred when Ruppert came to Gerken’s office door “wearing only his underwear and a smile,” according to a BOLI release.

Gerken could not be reached for comment by the Mail Tribune. In her 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. 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 an interview Thursday, Ruppert did not deny he presented himself to Gerken in his underwear. But he denies sexually harassing her. He said he fired Gerken for exhibiting disruptive behavior, poor work performance and wearing inappropriate clothing, he said.

“I warned her and there were witnesses,” Ruppert said.

Avakian noted that at the time of the harassment and retaliation, Gerken was just beginning her professional career. Ruppert was in his mid-50s.

“At the trial it was evident that one person was telling the truth, and another was not,” he said. “All of (Ruppert’s) businesses have failed and creditors a mile long are after him.”

Ruppert said he plans to appeal but said he does not have the money necessary to pursue an appeal. The well-known conspiracy theorist has written two books: Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil,” and “A Presidential Energy policy.” A movie about Ruppert’s theories, “CoLLapse,” was premiered this month at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.

Avakian said he rendered his decision based on an 84-page legal assessment of the case given to him by an administrative law judge who heard the case.

Ruppert said he fled to Venezuela after leaving Ashland because he feared for his life after writing a series of articles that exposed a cover-up that former NFL player Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan was due to friendly fire, he said.

Since leaving Venezuela, Ruppert has lived in New York and now resides in Culver City, Calif., he said.

He also said he believed the BOLI decision was timed to damage his credibility just as the movie was being released.

Avakian said BOLI intends to pursue the case against Ruppert wherever he is and get Gerken “every penny we can collect.”

“We have the ability to keep these judgments up to 10 years, and then can go another 10 years,” Avakian said. “That can go on forever.”

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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