Agency Alleges Grocery Store Failed to Stop Regular Customer From Harassing Female Employees
PORTLAND, ORE. – Fred Meyer Stores, Inc., a grocery chain employing more than 30,000, violated federal law when it failed to stop a customer from sexually harassing several female employees, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, female employees at Fred Meyer’s Oak Grove store in Milwaukie, Ore., were sexually harassed by a customer who visited the store almost daily, and often several times a day, since at least 2007. He would sit by the employee time clock in order to pull women onto his lap as they walked past to punch in. He would also rub up against female workers, giving unwanted hugs and groping their bodies, the EEOC said. When they protested, the customer would smirk or make comments such as, “That’s what they’re there for,” indicating the employee’s breasts.
Despite numerous complaints by the staff, the EEOC said, Fred Meyer managers excused the customer’s offensive behavior and dismissed it as nothing more than “hearsay,” even though the women were giving firsthand accounts of their experiences. The managers told employees that their reports were not actionable unless witnessed by management or the loss prevention department.
Laura Morrow, a Fred Meyer employee since 2002 and one of the women who brought the case to EEOC’s attention, said, “I just want to see to it that this doesn’t happen to anyone else. Fred Meyer shouldn’t have let this happen to any of us in the first place. I reported this problem time and time again and they didn’t do anything to protect me.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment and requires employers to take prompt action to investigate and to stop the behavior after they receive complaints. After first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Fred Meyer Stores, Inc., Civil Number 3:11-CV-00832-HA) in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon to seek monetary damages on behalf of female employees, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the worksite and other measures to prevent any future sexual harassment.
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “The customer is not always right. The law protects against harassment in the workplace not only from supervisors and co-workers, but also from non-employees such as customers, vendors, contractors and even delivery persons. Employers who fail to respond to reports of sexual harassment with a prompt investigation and appropriate action must face the legal consequences – which is why the EEOC is filing this lawsuit today.”
EEOC San Francisco District Director Mike Baldonado added, “Fred Meyer’s failure to address the continued harassment of its employees is inexcusable. This store received complaints almost on a daily basis about a regular customer repeatedly touching and groping its female employees. Rather than applying its own sexual harassment policy, Fred Meyer informed employees that nothing could be done unless a manager or loss prevention personnel directly witnessed the harassment -- a protocol usually designated for shoplifting scenarios and an utterly insufficient response to employees’ complaints of sexual harassment.”
Fred Meyer has its headquarters in Portland, Ore., and 131 stores in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Fred Meyer is part of the Kroger Company, a nationwide chain of retail stores including QFC, Ralphs, Fry’s, and others.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.