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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fuller Oil owner pleads not guilty to sexual assault, waives arraignment

NASHUA – The owner of a Hudson oil and propane company pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and waived his arraignment last week.

Fred Fuller, 64, of 1345 Union St., Manchester, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge through a letter his lawyer submitted at Nashua district court on April 25, according to documents at the court.

Fuller turned himself in to Hudson police earlier in April after they issued an arrest warrant charging him with forcibly fondling a female employee at his company’s 12 Tracy Lane headquarters.

Fred Fuller Oil & Propane is based in Hudson and has offices in Milford, Bridgewater, Derry, Goffstown, Laconia, Moultonborough and Northfield, according to the company’s website.

Fuller was arrested on April 19 and released on $2,500 personal recognizance bail. He is accused of fondling a now 30-year-old woman’s breasts on July 11 , according to court records.

It isn’t the first time Fuller has faced allegations of sexual harassment.

In 2005, he paid $780,000 to settle claims he harassed four of his female employees and tried to get a fifth woman to lie for him in court.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit in 2003 on behalf of two women who said Fuller touched and groped their breasts or buttocks, demanded sexual favors, and used sexually explicit language and gestures.

“For at least the last 10 years, Fred Fuller has been sexually harassing women,” the commission charged at the time. “He has continued to sexually harass women even as the charges have escalated.

“He has continued to sexually harass, intimidate and retaliate against women even after the EEOC has made it a priority to put a stop to his illegal and offensive behavior. The record is abundantly clear that not only does he not get it, he just doesn’t care. He is a serial sexual harasser.”

Fuller didn’t admit to any wrongdoing by making the settlement, according to his lawyer.

“The EEOC wrote to every employee and pressured people to try and join the case,” attorney Peter Callaghan said. “It was very disruptive to the business and to the customer service to have this going on. He felt it best for himself and his employees to resolve the case.”

In addition to the $780,000 payment, the settlement required Fuller to hire an independent agent to investigate future sexual harassment claims, to undergo sensitivity training sessions and to revise his company’s sexual harassment policies, according to an EEOC trial attorney.

Before the settlement was reached, Fuller’s lawyers unsuccessfully tried to have the charges dismissed by arguing their client’s behavior was at times offensive but didn’t rise to the level of creating a hostile environment.

“The occasional vulgar banter, tinged with sexual innuendo, of coarse or boorish workers is not pervasive enough or offensive enough to be objectionable,” Fuller’s lawyers argued.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).