March 19, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

A La Grande man is seeking more than $100,000 from Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Oregon Inc., claiming he was wrongfully terminated, harassed and assaulted by a manager at the Pierce Road plant.

Franklin D. Meeks claims in court documents filed last month that his May 18, 2000, firing was not only assaultive but was in violation of Oregons Safe Employment Act.

Meeks is seeking up to $60,000 in wage and benefit losses and an additional amount up to $60,000 in non-economic physical and emotional severe stress.

Meeks attorney, David Lefkowitz of Portland, is out of his office until March 31 and no one was answering his phone when The Observer tried to reach him for comment.

Fleetwood has not filed a response to Meeks lawsuit, but the companys assistant general counsel, Sherrie Schell, said that she is looking into the matter.

I know very little about the case right now, she said. She added that she could say there had been an altercation between Meeks and his manager, Mony Pen.

The altercation, she believes, included both racial taunts and physical assaults.

Both men were terminated for fighting on the job, she concluded.

Meeks claims in court documents that on or about May 5 last year, his manager physically and verbally harassed him. The claimed harassment was in calling Meeks and his wife profane names.

The lawsuit claims that the Meeks reasonably acted to try to stop the managers harassment by speaking to him and several other supervisors at the plant.

The manager continued the harassment, the lawsuit contends, including threatening Meeks with an ice pick and grabbing him by the throat.

Meeks was terminated May 18 by the same manager.

The lawsuit claims a set of public policy violations involved in the matter, including:

Directing profane language at Meeks and his wife.

Physically threatening Meeks with an ice pick.

Choking Meeks.

Failing to stop a managers verbal and physical aggression after being alerted to the situation by Meeks.

Failure to separate Meeks and the manager after additional supervisors were informed of the situation.

Terminating Meeks for defending himself and his wife.

Meeks claims against Fleetwood are for wrongful termination, assault and battery, negligence in failing to separate the manager from Meeks and for terminating Meeks after ratifying the managers alleged verbal and physical aggression.

Other claims in the lawsuit are that Fleetwood allowed intentional infliction of emotional distress by its acts and omissions which the lawsuit alleges were outrageous and caused severe emotional distress and anxiety and that the situation was in violation of the Oregon Safe Employment Act. The last claim is that the company failed to furnish a safe and healthful place of employment and failed to adopt and use such safety practices as were needed to prevent the situation Meeks found himself in.

As of Tuesday, no further legal documents had been filed in the case.