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Lawyer: Sex harassment suits often settle

Bakersfield, California – from www.bakersfield.com – The parties in radio talk show host Inga Barks’ [pictured] sexual harassment lawsuit against former co-host Scott Cox and American General Media aren’t scheduled for a court appearance until early December.

Between now and then, local sexual harassment lawyer Randy Rumph said, the two sides are likely to be preparing for a messy, public court hearing.

But they most likely will also be talking about how to settle the case before it ever goes to court, he said.

Rumph has been representing sexual harassment victims in Bakersfield for five years. Not a single case has made it to trial.

“The ones I have had here have all settled,” Rumph said.

When he practiced in Las Vegas, Rumph said, these kinds of cases made it into a courtroom more often.

But in California, the penalties that can be assessed at trial are sharply higher and businesses accused of sexual harassment often don’t want to take the risk, he said.

Barks filed her suit, which alleges sexual harassment, defamation, assault and battery and other offenses, in Kern County Superior Court Aug. 19. It became publicly known Wednesday.

Barks and Cox, who sometimes hosted together when they both had regular talk shows on KERN 1180 (Cox still has one), have declined to discuss the case. AGM’s attorney, Jay Rosenlieb, has said the business denies Barks’ claims.

Barks attorney Gabriel Godinez said Thursday his client earlier filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, exhausted her administrative remedies through the state system and was issued a “right-to-sue” notice.

Godinez would not comment on whether Fair Employment and Housing investigated before issuing the notice.

Annmarie Billotti, chief deputy director of programs for DFEH, said Barks filed a complaint and opted to ask the department to issue an automatic right-to-sue notice. The department did not investigate because Barks chose not to ask for one, Billotti said.

Complaint documents show Barks signed the complaint form May 18, the case was closed May 27 and the right-to-sue notice was issued June 10.

In her lawsuit, Barks claimed she repeatedly complained to her employer, American General Media, about Cox’s abusive treatment of her, which included demands for kisses and sex plus on-and-off air attacks on her character.

Rumph said those kinds of complaints are the first thing he asks prospective clients about.

At the beginning of a case, Rumph said, he looks for a way to prove the harassment happened based on something other than the plaintiff’s word.

He has a list of questions:

Has he or she complained?

What did management do about the complaints?

Has the plaintiff complained to people close to him or her?

Has the person harassed other people, and can you prove it?

Those questions can be critical, Rumph said, because if there isn’t an independent witness to back up a plaintiff’s story, the case devolves into a bruising he said-she said character battle.

“It comes down to credibility,” he said.

At that point, a plaintiff’s personal history is examined and anything that can discredit his or her claims is brought forward.

“Either you’re a nut or you’re a slut,” Rumph said bluntly.

Those attacks often create a blurry case, especially when, as Barks stated in her lawsuit, the person who claims to have been harassed has sometimes given in to some of the demands made.

Barks claimed that Cox often trapped her in doorways and hallways, groped her and demanded kisses.

“Defendants will use that against them,” Rumph said.

But the lawsuit has also put Cox’s past on trial in the public eye.

He pled guilty in 1989 and 1995 to two separate charges of solicitation of a prostitute. He served one day in jail in 1995 and paid a total of just more than $1,000 in fines.

“It’s why I don’t drink anymore,” Cox, 46, said Thursday when asked about the crimes. “It was young and stupid.”

One of the charges was tied to a bachelor party he attended in which, he said, he was designated the group spokesman.

The other, he said, was tied to “too much whiskey.”

ROUGH TIMES

Friends say Cox is struggling with the public airing of the suit.

“He says it’s not bothering him but he’s overwhelmed by it because everybody’s talking about it,” said Cox friend Monty Byrom.

Byrom and some of Cox’s other friends took him to lunch Thursday to show support but even there the news was the talk of the table.

Byrom said he cut the conversation off.

“I think he needs to get away from it. He’ll get over it,” Byrom said.

Byrom called Cox the best father he’s ever met and said the only time he heard Cox cry was when Barks insulted his decisions as a parent on the air.

Suing Cox, Byrom said, “would be like suing Don Rickles for sexual harassment.”

Back story: Radio talk show host Inga Barks, who left her regular gig on the airwaves at KERN 1180 last April 1, has filed a lawsuit charging former co-host Scott Cox of sexually harassing her and assaulting her for years.

The suit also accuses radio station owner American General Media of ignoring her pleas for help.

Her complaint, filed in Kern County Superior Court on Aug. 19 but not publicized until Wednesday, claims Cox started out as a supportive friend but, starting in 2002, became an abusive co-worker forcing her to kiss him, groping her and demanding various forms of sexual gratification from her.

When she complained to station managers, Barks claims, she was ignored.

When she confronted Cox about the behavior, her complaint alleges, he slammed her up against the wall in a hallway of the radio station then began to make disparaging remarks about her appearance and sexuality both on and off the air.

Jay Rosenlieb, attorney for AGM, said the business denies Barks’ claims.

“We have received the complaint. We are analyzing it. At this point the investigation we’re denying all the allegations,” he said.

Rogers Brandon, president of American General Media, said that “Inga continues to be an active employee of the radio station” who provides commentary and also does sponsorship endorsements for the company’s clients.

“While we vigorously deny the charges asserted in the lawsuit and plan to actively defend ourselves,” Brandon said, “we are hopeful there is an amicable resolution to this issue.”

Barks declined to comment.

Cox said his lawyer has advised him not to address Barks’ accusations.

Both Barks and Cox contribute columns to The Californian.

According to the lawsuit filing, Barks has worked for KERN 1180 since 1993, before it was acquired by AGM.

Cox joined the station in 2000 and, when Barks’ husband was hospitalized in Los Angeles later that year, was a big supporter in her “dark time,” the complaint states.

But Cox began making inappropriate comments after her husband was released from the hospital, she alleged.

And things got worse, Barks alleges, when the two were paired on a four-hour radio show in 2002.
Cox made demands for sexual favors, began touching, groping and kissing Barks during that time, she says.

When she asked him to stop, Barks claims, Cox began insulting her on and off the radio airwaves — musing about whether she had “fake” breasts, about the size of her genitals and whether she had sexually transmitted diseases.

The troubles continued for years during which, she claimed, Cox repeatedly asked her for sexual intercourse and oral sex and blocked her path in halls and doorways until he obtained a kiss from her.

“Barks on occasions capitulated in order to avoid further harassment from Cox,” the complaint reads. Later it states, “Given her husband’s past then and present critical condition, Barks was compelled to stay and work in the intolerable conditions described.”

Throughout the period, Barks claims, station management dismissed her complaints to them saying, “Oh that’s just Scott.”

Finally, on March 27, 2010, Cox repeatedly demanded sex from Barks during a show and then ambushed her after the broadcast, grabbed her buttocks and “pulled her into him for a kiss.”

On April 1, Barks announced suddenly that she was leaving the air on her regular morning show.

She told reporters at the time she was leaving because she wanted to spend more time with family and because of her husband, who was fighting to recover his health after kidney and pancreatic transplants failed in 2009.

“I’m exhausted,” she said in April. “I need to ratchet it back and do what is necessary for my family. You’re still going to hear me on local radio.”

Rosenlieb agreed that the incidents recounted in the complaint were shocking and scandalous.
But he said the complaints must now move through the routine legal process before they can be brought before a jury.

“Any allegation can be made in a complaint and, to a certain extent, is protected by a privilege. She can say whatever she wants and take her chances,” he said.

American General Media maintains that those claims are false, he said.

But, Rosenlieb added, “she’s a valued employee and we wish her the best.”

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