By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
Non-profit organization Challenge Mountain of Walloon Hills and Challenge Mountain’s board president Rob Towne have been named in a civil suit filed in Charlevoix County’s 33rd Circuit Court according to court documents which were filed in June.
Once the charity’s executive director, Renita Sue Moody now seeks more than $25,000 for what her attorney calls in the suit, “various violations of Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.”
Moody worked for Challenge Mountain from 2001 until Nov. 5, 2010.
The suit alleges that, despite having been a “consistent excellent performer” during her nine years with Challenge Mountain, she was fired to cover up alleged ongoing sexual harassment by two board members.
The first alleged case of “offensive and unwelcome sexual comments” against Moody are claimed to have come from Challenge Mountain board member Wayne Foucart, in October 2006. In January 2009, Foucart was elected board president.
“These sexually harassing comments were vulgar and pervasive and negatively affected plaintiff’s employment,” the suit states. “The sexual harassment by Foucart was repeatedly rebuffed by plaintiff.”
The suit added, “Plaintiff complained on several occasions to Foucart and he ultimately ceased the offensive conduct.”
According to the suit, Moody was “physically assaulted and sexually propositioned” by Towne in September 2009.
“Shortly after plaintiff rebuffed the inappropriate conduct, additional offensive conduct occurred as defendant Towne’s communication became verbally aggressive communication toward plaintiff,” the suit states. “Towne made multiple vulgar and sexually explicit phone calls to (Moody); Towne sent (Moody) sexually explicit e-mails; sexually explicit photographs, which included photographs of his genitalia.”
According to the suit, Moody reported Towne’s alleged behavior to a Challenge Mountain board member whose alleged response was that she, “did not want to hear any of this.”
“No action was taken by (Moody’s) employer with respect to her complaint of assault and sexual harassment,” the suit states. “In September 2009, another incident occurred when defendant Towne again physically assaulted and sexually propositioned (Moody) while she was working.”
Moody again refused the advances.
According to the suit, yet another incident occurred in September 2009, after Towne alleged to have arranged to meet Moody at Challenge Mountain’s lodge to discuss board of trustee business.
“During the meeting, defendant Towne began groping (Moody) and making sexual advances, which she refused,” the suit alleges. “Towne continued his sexual demands and, after approximately an hour of his pressuring behavior, when (Moody) did not feel she was free to leave and was under duress, she had sexual intercourse with defendant Towne.”
The suit added that directly following the alleged incident, “Towne physically threatened (Moody) and stated that he would kill her if she ever made him angry enough or told others about their sexual intercourse.”
According to the suit, Moody believed the alleged threats and remained silent about the alleged ordeal.
“After defendant Towne and (Moody) had sexual intercourse, defendant Towne further threatened (Moody’s) livelihood by stating that he ‘would have no problem firing her,’” the suit contends.
According to the suit, Towne used knowledge of Foucart’s alleged behavior toward Moody to help himself get elected as board president.
Moody was instructed to call Foucart while Towne allegedly secretly listened to the conversation. The suit alleges that Foucart admitted to sexual harassment.
“Approximately one week after the phone call between (Moody) and (then) president Foucart, Foucart resigned from defendant Challenge Mountain’s board,” the suit alleges. “Almost immediately after president Foucart resigned, near December 2009, defendant Towne was elected as defendant Challenge Mountain’s new board president.”
The suit added, “Thereafter, defendant Towne, together with another board member, presented (Moody) with a document for her signature that released defendant Challenge Mountain from any and all liability for sexual harassment.”
Moody, apparently fearing for her physical safety and job, signed the document.
From that time forward, the suit alleges, Moody made every effort to never be alone with Towne.
In January 2010, Moody allegedly proposed the first sexual harassment policy to Challenge Mountain’s board of directors.
“Only one board member voted in favor of adopting a sexual harassment policy,” the suit alleges.
Alleged continuation of threats that she would lose her job, the suit contends that another “coercive sexual encounter” occurred between Towne and Moody in March 2010, at Challenge Mountain’s Boyne City location.
“In May 2010, defendant Towne warned (Moody) that he ‘would kill anyone who attempted to hurt or destroy his family, and that their disclosure of their relationship would destroy his family,’” the suit alleges. “
According to the suit, a secret meeting held in August or September 2010 included discussion among Towne and volunteers at the Petoskey store that Moody would be fired.
“By August 2010, without explanation, defendant Challenge Mountain’s board became unresponsive to all communications from plaintiff except to refuse meetings with her,” the suit alleges.
Towne allegedly later demanded all Moody’s computer and e-mail passwords.
“The computer accounts contained the offensive, suggestive, demanding and intimidating e-mails to (Moody),” the suit contends.
Then, on Nov. 5, 2010, Towne, two other board members and Charlevoix County Undersheriff allegedly appeared at Moody’s office where she was informed Challenge Mountain was “restructuring” and her position had been eliminated.
According to the suit, Moody has sought medical treatment for emotional stress-related health problems arising from the alleged harassment.
Moody is seeking an undisclosed amount of money for what the suit claims is lost wages, lost benefits, lost future wages, lost future benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, loss of reputation and normal enjoyment of life due to a hostile work environment, retaliation, pattern and practice discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of right to privacy, and sexual harassment.
A call for comment was placed to Towne’s listed residence but Towne was unavailable to speak with the Boyne City Gazette.
Challenge Mountain offers outdoor recreation opportunities for both physically and mentally challenged individuals.