Class of Women Abused at Several Colorado Stores, Federal Agency Charges
DENVER – The Original HoneyBaked Ham, Inc. a national corporation based in Georgia with more than 400 retail locations scattered across the United States, violated federal law by subjecting a class of female employees at its Colorado stores to severe and pervasive sexual harassment and then retaliating against them for complaining about the misconduct, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed September 29, 2011.
In the complaint, the EEOC alleged that Wendy Cabrera, a manager at the Highlands Ranch, Colorado store, and a class of female employees, suffered from repeat and offensive unwanted sexual comments, innuendos, and physical touching by their regional manager despite frequent protests. Finally, the EEOC said, a number of the women were disciplined or discharged by the company for complaining up the chain of command about the treatment.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against employees because of their gender. Sexual harassment constitutes gender discrimination because it is a form of conduct that creates a hostile work environment that impedes an otherwise qualified individual from fully participating on equal footing in the workforce. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who attempt to enforce their civil rights or who complain or otherwise try to oppose discrimination.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, (Civ. No. 11-cv-2560-MSK-MEH), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency is pursuing back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Cabrera and a class of employees adversely affected by the Original HoneyBaked Ham’s failure to prevent the sexual harassment and retaliation. The EEOC is also prioritizing non-economic relief in the lawsuit, including seeking a permanent injunction against the company prohibiting it from discriminating in the future, and requiring all mangers and human resources personnel to undergo training in antidiscrimination law, including best practices for identifying, investigating, and eliminating sexual harassment from the workforce.
“Cases such as this one show that sexual harassment is still a prevalent problem in the modern workplace,” explained EEOC Phoenix District Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “It is against the law to subject workers to degrading treatment based on their gender. Sexual harassment has severe consequences -- it negatively impacts employees’ ability to engage and succeed in the workforce, creating an environment of fear, stress and humiliation. It also severely detracts from a person’s health and invades their personal lives, creating long-term ramifications to that individual’s employment. Employers must be vigilant to eradicate this mode of discrimination from the workplace, and to make sure that employees who complain of sexual harassment are not retaliated against.”
Denver EEOC Field Director Nancy Sienko added, “Non-economic relief is central to the EEOC’s mission. The agency seeks to eradicate sexual harassment and retaliation from the workplace. The country has come to understand that sexual harassment has very real and painful deleterious affects on its victims. Employees need to have the ability to fully participate in the workplace without facing obstacles because of their gender.”
The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.