Federal Agency Obtains Nearly Half Million for Abused Oak Grove Female Employees
PORTLAND, Ore. - National grocery chain Fred Meyer will pay $487,500 to seven workers employed at its Oak Grove, Ore., store and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. This is the company's second such settlement in just over five years; in late 2008, the company also settled an EEOC sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of three Oregon City store employees for $485,000.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, female employees at Fred Meyer's Oak Grove store in Milwaukie, Ore., were sexually harassed by the same customer from at least 2007. The man visited the store almost daily, and often several times a day, and he would make lewd comments to both employees and customers, in addition to grabbing employees, cornering them, touching their breasts, and pulling one employee onto his lap.
The EEOC said the numerous complaints by female employees to store management and security were dismissed as "hearsay," even after store security videotaped the customer reaching over the checkout counter to grab a female associate. Employees were instructed that the customer could not be excluded from the store unless the security department personally witnessed him engaging in the offensive behavior, a management decision that forced many female employees to suffer his harassment for years.
"I was terrorized at work and so stressed worrying about what would happen when this customer came into the store," said Victoria Settle, a Fred Meyer employee and one of the women who brought the case to the EEOC's attention. "I am grateful for the EEOC and so happy this is over. All I ever wanted was for my employer to do something to stop him, and I hope that this settlement means Fred Meyer will not let anything like this happen again."
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. The case was set for trial starting June 5, 2014 before Federal District Judge Haggerty, who also presided over the Oregon City lawsuit before it settled. As before, Judge Haggerty has ordered a court-enforceable consent decree requiring Fred Meyer to revamp its policies, train its staff, and report to the EEOC future complaints of sexual harassment.
EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo said, "We don't see the same legal claims against the same employer in the same area very often. We filed this case just months after the last consent decree expired. But the EEOC will take up this fight again and again if that is what's needed to combat recurrent sexual harassment."
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado noted, "Employers are responsible for ensuring a harassment-free workplace for their employees, regardless if the harasser is a co-worker, manager or customer. There should be no tolerance for repeat offenders and serial harassers."
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
Fred Meyer Stores, Inc. is a nationwide grocery chain with over 30,000 employees and 131 stores in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Fred Meyer is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kroger Company, whose fiscal sales in 2013 totaled $98 billion dollars and employs more than 375,000 employees nationally. The Kroger Company is listed as one of the five largest retailers in the world.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.