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Judge Dismisses Assault Suit

By Nicholas M. Ciarelli, Contributing Writer

A Middlesex County Superior Court judge dismissed last week a former Harvard employee’s suit that faulted the University for its response to an assault the plaintiff alleges occured at the Law School Library three years ago.

The suit was dismissed without a hearing on Nov. 3. The plaintiff, former Law School Library employee Beth A. Isabelle of North Reading, Mass., said she has been ill and lacked a lawyer to respond to the University’s motion to dismiss.

The complaint, which Isabelle filed Sept. 17, alleged that she was seriously injured from an assault that took place at work on Sept. 18, 2001. The suit contended that the University didn’t tell Isabelle she was required to file an accident report, failed to provide ergonomic accommodations, and led her astray about her rights and responsibilities under workers’ compensation rules.

The lawsuit said Isabelle was “given false information regarding eligibility for workmans’ comp, effectively keeping [her] at work and in pain,” and contended that the University “bullied” her to not apply for workmans’ compensation, resulting in the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” In an interview with The Crimson, Isabelle blamed Harvard’s Disability Claims Unit.

Isabelle said she filed the lawsuit three years after the alleged assault took place, a day before the three-year statue of limitations expired. Isabelle said she was awarded an $11,000 settlement in September 2002 but is appealing the decision to seek a more favorable deal. A spokesman for the University declined to comment.

But in Harvard’s motion to dismiss the suit, the University said that the Worker’s Compensation Act is the sole source of remedy for claims like those in Isabelle’s complaint, and cannot be pursued through civil suits.

Isabelle disputes the University’s argument. “People do it all the time,” she said.

The lawsuit also included a separate assault complaint against one of Isabelle’s co-workers from the Law School Library; the suit alleged that Sandra Shreve of Belmont, Mass., “committed an assault and battery” upon Isabelle resulting in injury, suffering, medical expenses and her inability to “sustain even partial employment.” Shreve denied the allegations in an Oct. 5 response to the court—which requested dismissal of the claim—and declined to comment further.

The lawsuit also faulted Harvard for not providing “a safe workplace by allowing another employee to run uncontrolled, undisciplined, with no bar to her behaviors.”

Isabelle, who said she was proud to work for Harvard, said her medical condition leaves her with neck pain and headaches and renders her unable to fold laundry, and said she isn’t sure what she will do next.

“If there’s still a chance for me to do something, I would do it,” she said.

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