Internet service provider Juno Online has been slapped with a $10 million lawsuit alleging that company executives sexually harassed employees.
The suit, filed in a New York state court, alleges that Juno vice president of strategic marketing Jordan Birnbaum ordered Lisa Bongiorno, an employee he supervised, to have sex with him if she wanted to keep her job.
Juno in a statement vigorously denied the claims. "We believe the allegations in the complaint are without merit and we deny them absolutely," the company said.
In the same statement, Birnbaum said: "All of the claims put forth by Ms. Bongiorno are false, and I intend to address them in the appropriate forum."
Bongiorno and Birnbaum allegedly began a sexual relationship, but after she tried to break it off last summer, "Birnbaum on occasion would go through plaintiff's desk and personal belongings to determine if she was seeing other men," the suit alleges. Earlier this year, ten days after ending the relationship, Bongiorno allegedly was fired.
The complaint goes on to allege many more violations carried out by other Juno managers and employees, including vice president Jonathan Cherins and Peter Skopp, another Juno employee. Cherins's father is Robert Cherins, a Juno executive vice president.
"Birnbaum, Jonathan Cherins, and others at Juno would constantly make remarks about the women who worked there, having nothing to do with their work, but treating them as sexual objects," the suit alleges. The "incidents are just typical of the conduct and hostile work environment and sexually charged and pervasive atmosphere in which plaintiff was required to work at Juno before she was fired for refusing to have sex with Birnbaum."
Juno acknowledged that Bongiorno was fired in February but said the dismissal was "due to issues related to her job performance. The decision to terminate her was made by her manager, Juno vice president Wendy Rosenberg, in accordance with company policy, and without any involvement whatsoever by Jordan Birnbaum."
The company added that it does not tolerate sexual harassment of its employees and has instituted strict policies for preventing it.
New York City-based Juno provides several types of online services, including Internet access and free email. It says it has established more than 7.2 million email accounts since introducing the free service in 1996. Juno derives revenues from advertising and from fees charged for Internet access.
The lawsuit could be only the first of several to be filed against Juno, said David Jaroslawicz, Bongiorno's attorney. He said he is aware of "at least three or four other women" at Juno who allege they "were used as sexual toys and abused."