Employer Failed to Take Appropriate Action Despite Criminal Report of Assault, Federal Agency Charges
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -Sprint Authorized retailer Elite Wireless Group, Inc. violated federal law when the retailer failed to address a male store manager who sexually assaulted a young female employee, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a recently filed lawsuit.
The EEOC investigation found that shortly after transferring to the Elite Wireless Arden Fair Mall location, a 34-year-old store manager began subjecting a 19-year-old sales clerk to unwelcome sexual advances and physical touching. The sales clerk also repeatedly received and rejected social media "friend" requests and invites from the manager. The harassment escalated to a sexual assault when the sales clerk found herself alone with the manager in his hotel room, where he had invited staff to join him after the company's holiday party. The next morning, after filing a criminal report with the police, the sales clerk reported the incident to the CEO of Elite Wireless.
Instead of transferring the store manager to another facility or granting the clerk's request for a leave of absence, Elite Wireless required her to continue working under his supervision. The sales clerk finally requested a transfer to a store location 20 miles farther away, resulting in additional commuting time and expenses. However, the severe emotional distress caused by the harassment resulted in her missing work, and Elite Wireless fired her for absenteeism a month later.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Elite Wireless Group, Inc., Case 2:19-cv-02187-MCE-CKD) in U.S. District Court for Eastern California, Sacramento Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks money damages for the young woman and injunctive relief to prevent future sexual harassment.
"This teen employee had been a consistent high performer and was selected as 'Employee of the Month' just prior to reporting harassment by her direct supervisor," said EEOC San Francisco District Director William Tamayo. "All workers have the right to work free from harassment and discrimination, but it is especially critical that we protect the rights of vulnerable teen employees, when the impact of facing sexual harassment as part of one's early job experience can be life-altering."
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Debra Smith added, "Employers should take note: acts of harassment need not be committed in the workplace to have consequences there. If the conduct began or developed in the workplace, then you may be found liable unless you take prompt, appropriate and effective action to address harassment. In addition, the employee reporting harassment should not bear the burden of separation from the alleged harasser. It may seem inconvenient or costly to transfer or put on paid leave a valuable supervisor, but in the long run you may save your company the heavy toll of workplace sexual harassment."
The EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace and its report provides employers with detailed recommendations on preventing harassment, including recommendations regarding leadership, accountability, policies and procedures, and training.
Elite Wireless is a wireless communication technology retailer with over 20 stores in California, Nevada and Hawaii.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Protecting vulnerable workers and preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation are two of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.
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