|By Kevin Coleman, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 3, 2005 - A Columbia hotel likely will be "going, going, gone" this week when the Boone County sheriff auctions it off on the Boone County Courthouse steps to collect a sexual harassment judgment levied against the franchise owner.
But the property, Columbia's Fairfield Inn at 2904 Clark Lane, might not be a bargain. It's loaded with debt.
Sheriff Dwayne Carey has "seized all right, title and interest" to the hotel property to collect a $236,670 judgment in a lawsuit brought by former employee Snezana Kostic against the hotel's owner, Columbia Hotels Inc.
After the company failed to pay the judgment, Kostic's attorney, Marvin Tofle, filed paperwork to force the hotel's sale and collect the debt.
Columbia Hotels Inc. owner George Pate of Jefferson City did not return a phone call.
Kostic was hired on with the hotel in November 1998 as sales coordinator. Her job duties included some front-desk work and other clerical duties.
Documents filed in the case say the hotel's general manager, Donald Turpin, encouraged Kostic to wear short skirts, made comments about her body and told her to take advantage of her looks so that she could "get ahead in business at the Fairfield Inn" and "make more money." He also threatened Kostic with termination if she did not "make him happy and follow his orders."
Kostic asked him to stop and filed a written grievance with the employer in May 2001. After that filing, "Turpin began a pattern of retaliating" against Kostic that included falling performance scores, relocation from the back office into the front lobby and being "yelled at and demeaned and humiliated in front of guests and other employees," according to the lawsuit.
In May, a Boone County jury agreed with Kostic that she was the victim of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.
Efforts to reach Turpin were not successful. An employee answering the phone this morning at the Fairfield Inn said Turpin "no longer works here."
Tofle, Kostic's attorney, said sexual harassment claims can be hard to prove, but in this case, the jury could see that his client got hassled. When she complained about it, the attorney said, she got harassed for complaining.
The retaliation was the largest component of the judgment, Tofle said.
"They lowered her pay. She was demoted, told to work in the lobby and was given poor work assignments," he said.
Kostic left the hotel in February 2002 and took a job with Dillard's department store. The judgment wasn't the outcome his client wanted, Tofle said.
"She loved her job and that business," he said.
The jury awarded Kostic $175,000 for sexual harassment, retaliation and constructive termination. The total judgment includes Tofle's fees of $60,351 and other costs.
The sale is subject to all liens against the property, said Angela Ayers, administrative assistant for the sheriff's department.
According to records at the county recorder of deeds office, deeds of trust against the property secure debt from Springfield-based Great Southern Bank totaling $2.6 million. The county assessor values the property at $2.5 million for tax purposes.
Opened in 1998, the 80-room hotel sits just northwest of Highway 63 and Interstate 70 on some of the most valuable real estate in the county. Columbia Hotels can keep it by paying the $236,670 judgment before the sale.
If the sheriff's sale happens, Carey will read a public legal notice about the sale, describe the property and announce all outstanding debts and liens on the property, Ayers said.
"After that, he'll open it up for bids and go from there," she said.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.
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