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from www.argusleader.com – A sexual harassment trial began Tuesday for the former co-owner of adult stores in Tea and Sioux Falls.
Three women who worked for Annabelle’s Adult Superstore in Sioux Falls and Olivia’s Adult Super Store in Tea filed suit in 2009 against the stores’ former manager, David Eliason.
Two of the women claim Eliason raped them; the third says the harassment stopped short of sexual assault.
They’ve each asked a jury to award them monetary damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment in life from Eliason for harassment, and from the stores for failure to take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment.
“These are adult book stores. There are no illusions about that. But it’s still a job, and people still deserve to be treated fairly,” said Aaron Eiesland, one of the lawyers for the women.
No criminal charges were ever brought against Eliason, but two of the women were granted protection orders based on their claims. During jury selection, lawyers emphasized that the standard of proof in a civil case is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applied in criminal cases.
During opening statements, Eiesland told the jurors who were selected that they would be able to decide if the allegations against Eliason were true based on the testimony of the women, who he said were too intimidated by their boss to take action alone.
They quit at the same time.
“They made the decision,” he said. “They said, ‘there’s no way he can take us all out.’”
Eliason, who is representing himself, told jurors that the allegations were false.
“You’ve heard some pretty horrible things about me today, but I can assure you that these things are not true,” Eliason said.
Lawyer Michael Luce, who represents the businesses, told jurors they’d have to decide not only if the allegations against Eliason pass “the smell test,” but if anyone who’d invested in the businesses should have suspected wrongdoing or acted to prevent harm.
“On what Annabelle’s knew or should have known, the evidence will be very clear: They did not know,” Luce said.
The primary investor in the Sioux Falls stores, a Florida man with a stake in several adult stores across the country, testified that he’d worked with Eliason in Florida prior to the opening of Annabelle’s and Olivia’s.
He said he did not oversee the day-to-day operations of either of the South Dakota stores or any of his other stores. He also said that Eliason’s previous work had shown him to be competent and smart, and that no other employees had raised issues about harassment while working with him.
Johnson said he first heard about the allegations though a news story on the protection order hearings.
“When I heard about something, me and my team came up here,” Johnson said.
Eliason was cut from the ownership of Annabelle’s, but had a controlling stake in Olivia’s.
The trial is expected to last through the week.