Federal Agency Said Class of Young Women, Including Teens, Subjected to Verbal and Physical Sexual Abuse by Grocery Store Manager
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – In a victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a jury in federal district court here has returned a $1,260,080 verdict in a significant sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the agency. The verdict settled the EEOC’s suit against Paul’s Big M grocery store in Oswego, N.Y., that had charged that a class of female employees, many of whom were teenagers still in high school at the time, was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment by the store’s general manager for more than 10 years.
“The jury’s award sends a strong message to employers that they must maintain work environments free of sexual harassment and be vigilant in protecting young employees – one of the most vulnerable segments of the labor force,” said Markus Penzel, an EEOC trial attorney on the case. “We applaud the courage of these young women and Ms. Bradford, Ms. Goodrich and Ms. Haskins for speaking out and coming to the EEOC. This verdict shows that justice has been done.”
The EEOC’s lawsuit (2008-CV-01019), charged KarenKim, Inc. -- known as Paul’s Big M -- with sexually harassing a class of female workers from 2001 onward at the Oswego store. The harassment, the EEOC said, included egregious acts of verbal and physical sexual conduct by the company’s general manager, Allen Manwaring. For example, the EEOC charged, Manwaring suggested a sexual threesome with one teenage cashier’s mother, stuck his tongue in another teenage cashier’s mouth and grabbed and touched the breasts and buttocks of other women.
At trial, woman after woman testified that Manwaring made sexual propositions, described his sex life with owner Karen Connors, to whom he was engaged, made lewd gestures to employees and touched or grabbed them in private areas. Many witnesses testified about the longstanding and ongoing relationship between Manwaring and Connors. They cited the relationship as one reason why the store and Connors refused to take action in response to repeated complaints about sexual harassment by Manwaring.
Manwaring testified that he pled guilty in 2008 to one criminal count of harassment in the second degree in satisfaction of four other charges after four women complained to the police. Connors testified that Manwaring was only given a 30-day paid suspension following his guilty plea. The harassment continued until Manwaring was fired in 2010 for sexually harassing another young woman, the EEOC said, although she testified that she was pressured by the company not to reveal the harassment or the reason for Manwaring’s termination.
The EEOC reported that the company repeatedly failed to take necessary steps to stop the harassment, despite numerous complaints to management and the police. The agency also asserted that working conditions were so intolerable that some of the women were forced to quit.
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
After a nearly two-week trial that started January 3, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the EEOC, awarding $1,250,000 in punitive damages against the company. It also awarded an additional $10,080 to 10 women to compensate them for the emotional pain and suffering they endured including Andrea Bradford, Judith Goodrich, and Deborah Haskins, the three women who first brought the harassment to the EEOC’s attention. Total damages awarded to the 10 women amounted to $1,260,080. The EEOC will also ask the court to award injunctive relief designed to prevent future discrimination.
Ami Sanghvi, the other EEOC trial attorney on the case, said, “The harassment at the store was especially egregious because many of the employees were teenage girls who were harassed by the General Manager, who was engaged to the owner, and felt they had no where to turn for help. This lawsuit demonstrates that the EEOC is committed to protecting teen workers through strong enforcement when employers fail to prevent and correct discrimination.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC can be found online at www.eeoc.gov.