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Owner of Maryland's J.O. Spice accused of sexual harassment in lawsuit from former employee

Owner of Maryland's J.O. Spice accused of sexual harassment in lawsuit from former employee
Steamed crabs seasoned with J.O. seasoning are displayed at Nick's Fish House restaurant in Baltimore. The owner of the Maryland-based spice company was sued for sexual harassment by a former employee. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

A former employee of J.O. Spice is suing the company for sexual harassment and discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Maryland’s District Court and names the J.O Spice and Cure Company as defendant. The family-owned and operated business in Halethorpe is one of the area’s largest producers of crab seasoning, distributing its spice mix to over 900 crab and seafood houses in the region. The factory employs about 25 to 30 workers.

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According to the suit, Donald Ports, the president and owner of J.O. Spice, “repeatedly discussed vulgar topics in the workplace ... and talked about women’s bodies in a sexually explicit and demeaning way.”

He allegedly demanded the plaintiff have sex with him both in the Halethorpe factory and away from work at an area motel. After she got married, he threatened to tell her husband of the relationship if she did not continue to meet his sexual demands. The plaintiff believed she would be fired if she did not comply.

The Baltimore Sun does not name alleged victims of sexual crimes.

In a statement provided by a lawyer for J.O. Spice, Ports and his wife, Ginger Ports, its vice president of marketing and sales, rejected what they called false allegations and said they “look forward to disproving these allegations and being vindicated in federal court.”

The plaintiff left the company in January of last year and filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last August. She is seeking relief including punitive damages, compensation for lost wages and attorney’s fees.

“There were no amorous communications” during the several years they had sex, according to the suit. Ports’ conduct “was that of a purely physical, coerced sexual transaction.”

Melanie Glickson, the woman’s attorney, represented another former employee in a 2018 suit against J.O. Spice. In that case, the plaintiff said he had been fired for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. That case was settled out of court.

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