PITTSBURGH - A woman claims the CEO of the nonprofit where she worked forced her to submit to hypnosis as "part of her duties," during which he stroked her breasts and "repeatedly brought her to orgasm."
Susan P. sued the Pressley Ridge Foundation and its former CEO B. Scott Finnell in Federal Court. She alleges sexual assault, fraud and other charges.
S.P. says Pressley Ridge hired her to work in Human Resources in 2008 and promoted her to Human Resources coordinator in June 2009. She says one of her supervisors was then-CEO Finnell.
According to the complaint: "Commencing on December 24, 2008, Finnell purported to treat [S.P] for 'stress' with a 'relaxation technique,' which was in fact hypnosis. Finnell told [S.P] that the 'relaxation sessions' were necessary not merely for her own benefit, but also because he was making a relaxation compact disk for the Pressley Ridge Wellness Program. Thus, the sessions were appropriately part of her duties as a member of the Pressley Ridge Human Resources Department. Nonetheless, Finnell also instructed [S.P] not to tell anyone about the 'relaxation sessions.'"
"The hypnosis sessions occurred on a frequent basis over the course of approximately a year, always behind closed doors in Finnell's office, on what Finnell referred to as his 'magic couch.' During the hypnosis sessions, while [S.P] was hypnotized, Finnell stroked [S.P's] breasts, and repeatedly brought her to orgasm, utilizing the hypnotic suggestion that he would slowly count to five, and when he reached five, she would experience a rush of pleasure.
"During the period when Finnell was hypnotizing [S.P], he also repeatedly told her that she was very attractive, and requested that she accompany him to his house during the lunch hour when his wife was out. [S.P] declined the invitation.
"Immediately after each hypnosis session, [S.P] could not recall what transpired. But she often noticed that the cardigan she had been wearing when she entered Finnell's office was now on her arm, or that the fashion in which the cardigan was buttoned had changed. She also noticed that her underpants were very damp. On one occasion, she was involved in an automobile collision while still foggy from a hypnosis session.
"Beginning in December of 2009, [S.P] began recalling what transpired during the so-called 'relaxation sessions.' The recollections which surfaced included not only the 'count-down to orgasm' sequence described above, but also:
"a) being on the floor in front of Finnell, and having her head between his legs;
"b) Finnell saying: 'I'm touching you, but you're so relaxed, you're so deeply asleep, you don't even feel it';
"c) a clicking sound, which may have been a camera, leading [S.P] to now fear that she was photographed in a state of dishabille."
When her memories surfaced, S.P. says, she confided in a co-worker, and "learned that a number of other female employees had been hypnotized."
She says that when Finnell learned that she was remembering what had happened under hypnosis, he "moved to push her out of the organization," barred her from meetings, "prohibited from speaking to anyone in upper management, stripped of her duties as Human Resources Coordinator, and demoted to the lesser position of Benefits Coordinator."
She says she brought this all to the attention of Pressley Ridge's Board of Directors in April 2010 and got no redress. She filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC on June 2, 2010 and Pressley Ridge fired her two days later. She says she was fired "in further retaliation for complaining of sexual harassment and reporting said sexual harassment to both the Board of Directors and the EEOC. Adding insult to injury, Pressley Ridge objected to [S.P.'s] unemployment claim."
She says the EEOC issued her a right to sue letter on June 8 and she sued Finnell and Pressley Ridge in July 2010. The Federal Court dismissed without prejudice, finding that the EECO issued its right to sue letter prematurely. The EEOC withdrew the letter and investigated, and issued her a new right to sue letter on July 13 this year, S.P. says.
During these proceedings, the complaint states, "the Board of Directors of Pressley Ridge learned that Finnell had indeed hypnotized numerous female employees and engaged in other misconduct warranting his dismissal. Finnell was dismissed from his post, but Pressley Ridge did not apologize to [S.P], much less offer suitable reparation."
S.P. seeks punitive damages for sexual assault, fraud, sexual harassment, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil rights violations and breach of faith. She is represented by Violet Elizabeth Grayson of New York City.
An Internet search for Pressley Ridge Foundation today (Friday) turned up several Web pages. The company appears to run a school for disabled and traumatized children. In announcing its receipt of a $186,000 grant for a "Therapeutic Wellness Camp," one website states: "The goal of the project is to develop a best practice model in keeping with Pressley Ridge's Re-Education philosophy, which asserts that developing trusting relationships, and assuring a competent and supported direct care staff is the best way to affect change in behavior."