99 Cents Only Stores in northern California will pay $1.2 million to settle claims made by two workers. The employees say a supervisor sexually assaulted them in a walk-in freezer. When they reported the incident, both found their hours cut.
After the workers made their complaints, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing began investigating. Ultimately the state filed charges against the company.
In addition to paying the two workers, 99 Cents Only Stores agreed to provide managers with extra training.
In announcing the settlement, the executive director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing said, “Employers must take seriously their duty to provide a work environment that is free from sexual harassment and sexual assault. DFEH will hold to account companies that allow harassment and retaliation against employees who complain.”
What Does This Mean for Retail Workers?
The retail industry doesn’t pay well but is vital for our economy. Today more than 1 in 10 workers is in the retail sector. In fact, it is the country’s biggest industry. Unfortunately, many retail workers live paycheck to paycheck. They are so dependent on keeping their jobs that they are often reluctant to report sexual misconduct or harassment.
Some younger workers have little work experiences and therefore don’t really know what type behaviors are inappropriate in the workplace.
Yet another problem is the lack of reporting procedures. Many workers simply don’t know how to report harassment. This is especially true if the HR personnel are 1000 miles away in a corporate headquarters.
Not only is it more difficult for workers in a decentralized workforce to report harassment, it is also more difficult for senior management to police what happens in dozens or hundreds of stores.
A final problem is the number of retail workers who are harassed by customers. We usually think co-workers and supervisors are the ones doing the harassing. But what happens when a customer harasses a retail worker? The problem is even worse if the worker is dependent on commission income.
A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that the retail and service industries have the highest rates of sexual harassment.
While sexual harassment comes in many forms, California says these two workers in the 99 Cents Only case were sexually assaulted. Obviously, such behavior is never appropriate. Nor is retaliation.
While we do not know the details of these assaults, the state took the allegations seriously. Ultimately, the business settled for $1.2 million. For a worker probably making $30,000 per year that is a huge amount of money. It sends a strong message to retailers that such behavior will be punished severely.
We appreciate that the state also is requiring more training. As a practical matter, however, it should be evident that sexual assault and retaliation is illegal. Such obvious misbehavior shouldn’t require training.
Attention Retail Workers Who Are Victims of Sexual Harassment
The sexual harassment lawyers at Mahany Law help victims of workplace harassment and misconduct. If you have suffered from a sexual assault by a co-worker or other serious sexual misconduct, you may be entitled to significant damages. If you also suffered from retaliation, you may be eligible for double back wages and attorneys’ fees.
For more information, visit our Retail Industry Sexual Harassment information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are kept confidential. Cases handled on a contingent fee basis. If you don’t win, we don’t get paid.