Have you ever complained to management about a co-worker’s lewd jokes or annoying flirtation, only to have your employer ignore your sexual harassment concerns?
Retail employees know that it can take continued complaints to get any action out of their superiors, but ignoring complaints about employee sexual harassment is illegal. Large retail chains like Wal-Mart are clear on the law, yet continue to pay big sums for disregarding employee complaints.
When an employer ignores your complaints regarding sexual harassment – or worse, fires or demotes you for complaining – the damages add up significantly. Take a lesson from Wal-Mart on how your employer’s action (or lack thereof) can affect the outcome of your sexual harassment lawsuit.
Wal-Mart Pays $363K In Akron Sexual Harassment Settlement
With nearly 11,700 store locations and 2.3 million employees worldwide, one would think the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Store, Inc. would have its anti-sexual harassment policie s firmly in place. Yet in the past 16 years, Wal-Mart has paid nearly $13.5 million in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) employee discrimination penalties and Title VII violations.
In March 2014, Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. agreed to pay $363,419 to resolve allegations that its Akron, Ohio store failed to protect a disabled employee, Jamie Wells, from sexual harassment.
According to the EEOC, Wells’ co-worker, Francis Cameron, subjected her to “unauthorized, non-consensual, and harmful physical and sexual contact” over a period of at least five years, long after several members of management were allegedly made aware of the situation. Wal-Mart also fired Wells eleven days after she filed a formal complaint – a violation of federal anti-retaliation laws.
In February 1997, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found Wal-Mart liable for punitive damages of $350,000 after the store repeatedly ignored complaints by a former Wal-Mart employee, Peggy Kimzee, regarding sexual harassment.
Kimzee complained to management that her supervisor and assistant manager continually submitted her to sexually suggestive gestures, comments and other harassment. Personnel failed to investigate Kimzee’s numerous complaints. A jury initially awarded Kimzee $50 million in punitive damages until the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reduced the punitive damages to $350,000.00.
In June 2006, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. agreed to pay $315,000 to resolve two lawsuits involving sexual harassment in a Bradenton, Florida Wal-Mart Super Center. A 2004 lawsuit alleged the store ignored two female employees’ complaints about a male manager exposing himself, touching the two employees and requesting sex.
Despite complaints, the harassment continued until one of the victims quit her job. A separate lawsuit filed in 2005 regarding the same store alleged an assistant manager subjected a female employee to vulgar language, propositions for sex and inappropriate touching. Again, her complaints went unaddressed. The EEOC required Wal-Mart to enter into a 3-year monitoring period to ensure compliance with Title VII.
In August of 2011, Wal-Mart Stores of Texas, LLC paid $27,500 to settle allegations that a male security guard submitted Paula Barstad, an overnight stocker with a Midland, Texas Wal-Mart store, to unwanted comments and physical touching.
Wal-Mart management allegedly ignored Barstad’s repeated written and oral complaints. In addition to monetary damages, a consent decree required the Midland Wal-Mart conduct anti-discrimination training and specific steps to take when receiving a discrimination complaint.
Courts May Increase Damages For Failure To Address Employee Title VII Concerns
The EEOC defines sexual harassment in the workplace as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature that unreasonably interferes with a person’s job performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can range from ongoing sexual jokes to offensive social media posts directed toward you to inappropriate touching.
If a victim can prove sexual harassment, the employer may be liable for punitive and compensatory damages – including costs of pain and suffering, defamation costs, medical bills, job search costs, back pay for lost wages, bonuses, commissions, health or life insurance benefits, vacation or sick pay, pension or retirement benefits and stock options.
The court calculates the amount of damages based on a number of factors, including:
- Type and frequency of sexual harassment
- Level of hostility
- Harasser’s position relative to the victim
- Whether the conduct singled out one victim
- Whether the company took action to correct the problem
- Number of company employees
Keeping a careful record of your complaints to your supervisor, management or other personnel is critical to maximizing the damages you may collect should you choose to file a sexual harassment claim against your employer.
Has Your Employer Disregarded Your Complaints Of Sexual Harassment?
Many people call us to learn how to handle ignored complaints involving sexual harassment at work. Calling an experienced sexual harassment lawyer is indeed the vital first step. We can supply you with the advice you will need to ensure your rights are protected.
Make a detailed note of every complaint and your employer’s response (or lack of response). Remember, employer retaliation in response to your complaint is illegal. Document any changes in employer behavior, (sudden poor performance evaluations, lesser job duties, demotion or other changes that seem to occur after your complaint).
If you chose to proceed with a civil lawsuit under Title VII, our experienced sexual harassment attorneys can help prepare your complaint for the EEOC.
State and federal statutes of limitations apply so it is best to contact us as soon as possible to learn whether you should pursue a claim for damages and how you can protect yourself from further harassment under the law.
Have questions about sexual harassment? Visit our sexual harassment FAQ page for more information. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are protected by the attorney client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation.)