Employees claim harassment by asst. department head at Texas A&M-Galveston

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jul. 15, 2012, 8:58am


GALVESTON - Claiming they were subjected to harassment and abuse by an assistant department head, two employees of Texas A&M University-Galveston have filed a lawsuit.

Yvonne J. Fowler and Jaime Padgett filed suit against TAMUG and Dr. Frank Warnakulasuriya on July 2 in Galveston County District Court.

The suit alleges Warnakulasuriya subjected Fowler to abusive behavior and physically attacked Padgett.

Warnakulasuriya is the former assistant department head for the maritime systems engineering department. Fowler worked as business coordinator II while Padgett was employed as business associate II.

The suit says Warnakulasuriya started to harass Fowler in March 2006, stating he would ask her about personal matters and "pester her co-workers about her whereabouts."

Warnakulasuriya's conduct became increasingly aggressive through the spring and summer of 2006 before taking an "obsessive" turn in early 2007, according to the suit.

Fowler claims that Warnakulasuriya would follow her to her desk as well as "noticeably pace back and forth" in her workspace when other male faculty members were there.

He would interrogate her about what she and her male colleagues discussed and demanded she seek his permission before speaking with other men at the office, the suit states.

Fowler alleges Warnakulasuriya made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

According to the suit, Fowler filed three reports between late 2007 and late 2010 about the incidents, but Warnakulasuriya only stepped up his misconduct against the plaintiff.

The suit describes an alleged April 7, 2011, incident in which Padgett tried to close Fowler's office door in an effort to separate Fowler from Warnakulasuriya when he grabbed Padgett's arm.

The event, which prompted the women to flee to another co-worker's office, forced a seven-months pregnant Padgett to deliver a baby "born bruised, bleeding from the brain and unable to breath," the suit says.

TAMUG investigated the incident and determined that Warnakulasuriya engaged in a pattern of "demanding, demeaning, condescending and inappropriate" behavior.

The plaintiffs state they were moved to other parts of the school, but had difficulty in effectively performing their jobs.

Meanwhile, the school disciplined Warnakulasuriya, but retained him "despite the years of harassment to which he subjected Ms. Fowler and his physical assaults of Ms. Fowler and Ms. Padgett," the suit says.

Fowler, who has since resigned and is reportedly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, insists Warnakulasuriya continued to contact her despite her relocation and TAMUG was set to shred documents pertaining to the investigation.

Consequently, the plaintiffs seek unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

Attorney Howard J. Steele with Steele Sturm PLLC in Houston is representing the plaintiffs.

Galveston County 122nd District Court Judge John Ellisor is presiding over the case.

Case No. 12-cv-1452

More News