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Sexual harassment lawsuit filed against YMCA of Reading and Berks County

On January 28, 2014, Pennsylvania resident Nichole Hedegard filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, YMCA of Reading & Berks County, Michael Alvarez, and Nathan Prenzlow.

Hedegard, who started working for YMCA of Reading as a housekeeper in February 2012, claims that her supervisor, Michael Alvarez, pressured her into having sex with him.

Hedegard alleges that Alvarez showed her a photo of his penis while in his office at the YMCA and that he “initiated a physical relationship with [Hedegard] by kissing her in a classroom at the YMCA” several days after showing her the photo of his penis.

Hedegard testified in a deposition that Alvarez had sex with her approximately six times, including twice in a closet in Alvarez’s office at the YMCA.

Hedegard claims that she thought she would lose her job if she refused Alvarez’s sexual advances.  According to the complaint, “Alvarez repeatedly threatened to fire [Hedegard] if she did not respond to his advances in a manner he deemed acceptable.”  Hedegard believed that she had no choice but to engage in sexual intercourse with Alvarez in order to keep her job at the YMCA.

Hedegard did not report the alleged sexual harassment to Alvarez’s supervisor, Nathan Prenzlow, who was Executive Director of the Reading YMCA, because Alvarez and Prenzlow were allegedly friends.

In late July 2012, Hedegard discovered that she was pregnant and immediately told Alvarez that she was pregnant and that he was the father.  According to Hedegard, Alvarez insisted that she get an abortion, and he punished her in the workplace when she refused to abort her pregnancy.

Hedegard claims that Alvarez “made [her] life hell” by making derogatory and hurtful comments to her such as “fuck you, bitch” and that he physically assaulted her on one occasion by knocking a bleach bottle from her hand and ripping her work keys from around her neck.

When Prenzlow found out about this incident, he allegedly spoke with Alvarez and then subsequently told Hedegard that “she was being too emotional.”  According to the complaint, “Prenzlow did not conduct an investigation into Defendant Alvarez’s violent, offensive, and discriminatory behavior, nor did he issue any disciplinary action to Defendant Alvarez.”

Hedegard claims that she quit working at the Reading YMCA because she did not want to “risk that [Alvarez] would, once again, physically attack her and put her unborn child at risk.”

According to court filings, Alvarez has a “violent criminal history” that includes serving time in prison for a 1989 conviction of simple assault, serving seven years in prison after being convicted of robbery, during the course of which he shot the person he was robbing, and spending five years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.  Alvarez was released from prison in or around 2010 and was on probation in July 2010 when he was hired by the YMCA.  The YMCA allegedly conducted a criminal background check on Alvarez and was aware of his criminal record when the organization hired him.

Sexual harassment lawsuit filed against YMCA of Reading and Berks County
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