The attorney who represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in her suit against the network and its chief, the late Roger Ailes, is now going after PNC Bank (PNC).
Nancy Erika Smith, a partner at Smith Mullin, is taking on the case of Damara Scott, a former wealth manager for the Pittsburgh-based bank. She alleges PNC did not protect her from a customer who had a reported history of sexual harassment.
The incident took place in October 2013, at a PNC branch in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. The customer, who died of a heart attack about two months later, allegedly sexually assaulted the wealth manager as she walked out of the bank on a Sunday afternoon.
Since then, Scott has pursued her former employer in court. Last June, she retained Smith for a trial that’s scheduled to begin Wednesday in Newark, N.J.
“It’s time for companies to take sexual harassment seriously. Even if it costs them money,” Smith told Yahoo Finance in an interview.
PNC has denied the allegations, arguing that the interaction was mischaracterized.
“No allegation of sexual assault should be taken lightly, and PNC has a long-standing commitment to providing a safe environment for our employees and customers to work and do business,” the bank said, in a statement emailed to Yahoo Finance.
“It is unfortunate that plaintiff’s counsel has chosen to brand an elderly customer, now deceased, as a sexual predator who allegedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff when that will not be established by the evidence, including a video of the interaction between the customer and plaintiff,” PNC said. “We look forward to presenting the evidence in court, which will make it clear what actually occurred.”
Asked why Smith chose to purse action on behalf of Scott against PNC, Smith said: “At first it was just holding PNC accountable, now she’s just been inspired by women who want to stand up not only for themselves but for all women.”
The effects of ‘Me Too’
PNC is the latest institution to stand accused of not doing enough to foster a workplace free of harassment. In the wake of the “Me Too” movement, data show U.S. companies have spent heavily on policies that address sexual harassment and assault.
Research firm ISO MarketStance, a Verisk business recently estimated that in 2019, American companies would spend about $2.7 billion on employment practices liability insurance premiums (EPLI), up from $2.2 billion in 2016. Verisk Analytics, which also tracks trends in EPLI, found a nearly $150 million jump in premiums written between 2013 and 2017.
Yet Smith told Yahoo Finance that companies should instead direct their resources to effective sexual harassment training and elevating women to top positions.
“I think companies should spend money on ensuring there are women in leadership — which has been proven to reduce the amount of sexual harassment,” Smith said.
They should offer “real training, not a little computer program that you can do something else while it’s on your computer, and really take it seriously and prevent it,” the attorney added. “I don’t think insuring against it is the best response.”
Smith represented Fox’s Carlson, who waged a high-profile case against Ailes and the network in a battle dramatized in the Showtime feature “The Loudest Voice” and the Hollywood movie “Bombshell.” Carlson settled for a reported $20 million.
Smith said she’s representing Scott to help seek justice on behalf of all women.
“I think we’re at a point in the world where women are tired of being subjected to abuse and harassment,” Smith said.