Whitesburg KY

Miners say firm wouldn’t stop boss from harassing them

A discrimination complaint filed with a federal agency earlier this year by two Letcher County coal miners has wound its way back to the state level in the form of a lawsuit charging sexual harassment.

Charles Scott Howard of Roxana and Ralph Shuffler of Eolia filed a lawsuit in Letcher Circuit Court last week charging they suffered emotional distress when they were sexually harassed by a third-shift supervisor at Cumberland River Coal Company’s Band Mill No. 2 Mine at Eolia. The two men are seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.

The case began in January when Howard, 47, and Shuffler, 46, filed a “charge of discrimination” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Cumberland River Coal and shift supervisor Norman Bolling. The two men charged they were discriminated against when the company did not do enough to protect them from Bolling’s “repeated, unwanted, and highly inappropriate sexually-based conduct.”

In their complaints filed with the EEOC, Howard and Shuffler said Bolling, who was later fired, had been “grabbing men in the crotch area, poking them in the tail, grabbing them and kissing them, (and) rubbing things like pens and bottles in his crotch area and throwing them on others.”

On May 14, the EEOC ruled that Howard and Shuffler each had a right to sue Cumberland River Coal. They did just that on August 17.

The two men charge in the lawsuit that for “at least 22 months” they endured lewd behavior and vulgar sexual language by Bolling on almost a daily basis.

“For example,” says the suit, “Bolling poked Howard’s buttocks while Howard was working underground. And while Shuffler was lying on his side welding underground, Bolling grabbed him from behind and ‘humped’ him (i.e., he simulated sexual intercourse).”

Howard had his schedule changed to avoid encounters with the supervisor. Shuffler couldn’t concentrate because of the supervisor’s behavior, the lawsuit said.

The suit charges that the “inappropriate sexual behavior and vulgar sexual language that Bolling engaged in on an almost daily basis was both known and witnessed by other supervisory personnel of Cumberland River over a lengthy period of time.”

“However,” the suit continues, “no action was taken against Bolling by the company until Howard and Shuffler filed their grievances with Cumberland River, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the company and the Scotia Employees Association. Shortly after the grievances were filed, Bolling’s employment at the mine ended.”

Howard and Shuffler are represented by Lexington attorney Tony Oppegard, a former state and federal mine safety official.

Calls to Cumberland River Coal’s parent company, St. Louis-based Arch Coal, were not immediately returned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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