The nation’s largest retail chains continue to face a wide range of sexual harassment claims, despite continued efforts by private parties and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
An alarming number of these sexual harassment cases also involve charges of employer retaliation in response to internal reports of harassment.
Several cases over the past five years demonstrate that even the largest retail chains are subject to hefty fines for failing to protect their employees from sexual harassment – and for retaliating against those employees that attempt to take action.
Fry’s Electronics Fires Supervisor Who Reports Sexual Harassment of Salesperson
In August 2012, Fry’s Electronics agreed to pay $2.3 million to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit after a Renton, Washington Fry’s assistant store manager sent 20-year old salesperson, America Rios, frequent, sexually charged text messages and repeatedly invited her to his house for drinks.
The electronics retail chain was charged with sexually harassing the salesperson, and with retaliating against Rios’s supervisor Ka Lam, who had reported the harassment to the company’s legal department.
"The case should send a clear message that sexual harassment of vulnerable employees remains a serious problem in this country, as is employer retaliation against those who report harassment," said the EEOC.
Finish Line Reduces Teen Employees’ Hours After They Resist Sexual Harassment
In February 2013, a U.S. District Court jury awarded $30,000 in compensatory damages plus back pay to three teenage employees of a Finish Line, Inc. store in Franklin, Tennessee after finding that a 38-year-old general manager subjected the three females to severe sexual harassment. The suit alleged that Finish Line’s sexually abusive working environment forced the female employees to quit and that Finish Line retaliated against one female employee after reducing her hours because she resisted the sexual harassment.
"It is unfortunate that any woman has to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, especially teenagers,” said attorney Kenneth Anderson. “Equally reprehensible is the fact that the harassment was at the hands of their much older male supervisor. We commend these three young women for the tremendous courage they displayed in confronting egregious sexual harassment by their supervisor.”
WalMart Fires Employee Shortly After She Complains About Sexual Harassment
In March 2014, Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., agreed to pay $363,419 and committed to significant injunctive relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit claiming the retail chain allowed a co-worker to sexually harass Jamie Wells, an intellectually disabled employee of a Walmart store in Akron, Ohio.
The complaint claimed the harassment went on for several years, even though store management was aware of the situation. The store fired Wells soon after she made a formal complaint to management.
"The EEOC guidelines and Supreme Court rulings make it crystal-clear that employers must be accountable for failure to take prompt and appropriate action to stop harassment and for punishing employees who complain about harassment,” said the EEOC.
O’Reilly Automotive Fails to Respond to Male Employee’s Complaints of Sexual Harassment
Women aren’t the only ones complaining of sexual harassment in the workplace. In September 2014, O'Reilly Automotive Stores, Inc., a national company with over 4,000 stores, agreed to pay $35,000 under a consent decree to resolve an EEOC sexual harassment case alleging that a Chicago O'Reilly female store manager subjected a male employee to groping and sexually offensive comments. The EEOC also claimed that O'Reilly did not promptly or adequately respond to his complaints of sexual harassment.
"Sadly, sexual harassment remains a persistent issue in today's workplace,” said the EEOC. “But it is still encouraging to see employers faced with the problem step up quickly to deal with it and to chart a better course for the future, whether it is men or women who were the victims."
Kroger Fails to Take Action to Prevent Sexual Harassment Of Teen Grocery Store Employee
In November 2015, nationwide retail grocery store chain Kroger Limited Partnership agreed to pay $42,500 to resolve EEOC allegations of sexual harassment. The suit charged that Kroger subjected a teenage employee to sexual harassment by a male coworker and failed to take effective action to prevent the abuse. The harassment began shortly after the teen's hire and continued throughout her employment, with Kroger taking no corrective action against the harasser until her final complaint.
"Employees - especially very young and vulnerable employees such as in this case -- should be able to report to work without fear of sexual harassment," commented the EEOC. "Further, companies must respond appropriately when an employee makes a complaint of sexual harassment."
Retail Employers Must Address Employee Complaints of Sexual Harassment
Many individuals who call us with questions about workplace sexual harassment do not realize that it is also illegal for an employer to ignore their complaints, or to fire or demote an employee for reporting concerns. Any time you suspect that comments or behavior in the workplace constitutes sexual harassment, tell a supervisor and request that the behavior stops. Document your request, and keep notes of the response you receive, if any.
Retail employers are required to take sexual harassment complaints seriously. If you report sexual harassment in the workplace to your supervisor, and the harassment does not immediately cease, you may well have a right to file a complaint about damages.
Are you a victim of sexual harassment in a retail workplace? We can help. Contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney at Whistleblower Law Group to learn how you can further protect yourself and your coworkers from sexual harassment under both state and federal law: 877.858.8018 or [hidden email].