Company exec claims boss pursued, kissed, “grabbed” her

Solidifi US Inc. denies that its human resources director was sexually harassed

Dec 8, 2017 at 10:03 am
click to enlarge Solidifi's Cincinnati offices are in this building on Pete Rose Way downtown - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Solidifi's Cincinnati offices are in this building on Pete Rose Way downtown

For more than a year, the human resources director of a Cincinnati company was kissed, “grabbed” and subjected to unwelcome pursuit by her new company president, the woman alleges in a lawsuit.

The sexual harassment suit was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court by Diane Sweeney, the HR director at Solidifi US Inc. in downtown Cincinnati. Along with the company — a subsidiary of Toronto-based Real Matters Inc. — her suit names its former president, Jeffrey Patterson, as a defendant.

Solidifi denies the allegations in a legal filing. Real Matters spokeswoman Lyne Fisher would not comment further because it is being litigated. Anthony McNamara, a Cincinnati lawyer representing Patterson, did not return CityBeat’s telephone calls.

Sweeney was working for Southwest Financial Services, a provider of information to home equity lenders, when the company was bought by Solidifi in May 2015. Patterson, her lawsuit says, became president that month, and she reported to him directly.

Although Patterson lived and worked in Toronto, he traveled to Cincinnati every week, the suit states. Sweeney describes him as a boss who “repeatedly” asked her to lunch but who “never wanted to talk about business,” while drinking alcohol “to excess.” Twice, when dropping Patterson off at his hotel in her car, he leaned over and kissed her, she says.

The lawsuit lists a number of alleged acts of sexual harassment in 2017. Among Sweeney’s claims:

— On Jan. 17, Patterson arrived at work “completely drunk,” entered Sweeney’s office, closed the door, walked around her desk and “grabbed” her. After she pulled away, he grabbed her again. Two other workers reported Patterson’s drunkenness to Sweeney.

— The following Jan. 27, Patterson called Sweeney at work. After  telling her that he was watching her from his hotel room facing her office, he said she “should look out her window if she wanted to see a naked man.” She says she did not look.

— While in her office March 2, Patterson told her he was upset by her continual rejections of his “date night” overtures. He “grabbed” Sweeney, said, “I get a hug,” and “made a disgusting sexual sound.”

— On March 9, Patterson remarked that Sweeney always had her arms folded across her chest and that she “must feel defensive when he comes into the office.” Sweeney didn’t respond, and Patterson went on, “You should be, because I am practicing great restraint.”

— One day later, when Sweeney asked how Patterson was doing at the start of an office meeting, he replied, “Better now that I’ve seen you.” And after asking Sweeney why she always sits so far away from him at the conference table, he answered himself, “I must be in sales … rejection, rejection, rejection.”

In her lawsuit, Sweeney says she wrote a letter on March 17 to Solidifi CEO Jason Smith, telling him about Patterson’s conduct. Afterwards, Solidifi hired a lawyer to investigate the complaint. Patterson, the company says, was immediately removed as her supervisor.

No further mention of the investigation is made in the lawsuit, but Sweeney says she was subsequently marginalized by the company. Her new boss, she says, doesn’t answer her emails and works instead with her younger colleagues. And breaking from its previous practice of giving stock options to director-level employees, Sweeney says she was the only director not to receive options in May and October.

Real Matters' own Code of Conduct forbids sexual harassment in the workplace, "verbal or physical conduct that disrupts or interferes with your ability to do your job" and retaliation against workers who report violations of the code.

"It sets the expectation that we will act with the highest level of integrity, uphold the law, and that we will treat all of our stakeholders, and each other, with respect and transparency," CEO Smith wrote in January.

Sweeney’s lawsuit, filed by Cincinnati lawyers Randy Freking and Erin Heidrich, accuses Solidifi of sexual harassment, retaliation, age discrimination, negligent supervision and negligent retention. It accuses Patterson of battery. The suit asks the court to stop the conduct and to award unspecified monetary damages. Solidifi has asked that the case be tried in federal court.

Patterson's bio and photo was still on the Solidifi website, but was removed after this story was posted. Real Matters general counsel Nicolas Catros signed a declaration Nov. 21 vouching for Sweeney’s current employment but not Patterson’s. He wrote that Patterson “previously was employed” by Real Matters.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR at [email protected], 513-914-2736 or @jmacnews on Twitter