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Aaron Rents Settles EEOC Sex Harassment Suit

Store Manager Subjected Customer Service Rep to Sexual Assault, Federal Agency Charged

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill.– The  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced the  settlement of an egregious harassment case against Aaron Rents, Inc., doing  business as Aaron Sales & Lease Ownership (Aaron), for significant remedial  relief on behalf of a young female worker who was allegedly subjected to a  sexually hostile workplace and assaulted by a store manager.

In its  lawsuit, filed on September 30, 2008, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Case  No. 3:08-cv-00683-MJR-DGW), the EEOC alleged that the general manager of  Aaron’s Fairview Heights, Ill.-based store made sexually explicit comments and  requests for sex on a regular basis to Ashley Alford, a young customer service  representative. The EEOC alleged that the  manager repeatedly attempted to force Alford to have sex with him and that the harassment  escalated until he sexually assaulted Alford in the store’s warehouse area.

According to the EEOC’s court-filed  complaint, the male manager, “…touched Alford’s body in a sexually offensive  manner on a number of occasions and he exposed himself to her several times.  Alford complained to her direct supervisor and called the company hotline but  no action was taken to end the harassment. In October 2006, [the manager]  sexually assaulted Alford in the Fairview  Heights facility.”

The EEOC’s proposed consent decree  was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and is  subject to approval by Judge Michael J. Reagan.  The decree will provide significant remedial relief, including training  for all managers within Arron’s St. Louis Region, reporting of any complaints  of sexual harassment in this region, and improving its company-wide  discrimination hotline. Alford  intervened in the EEOC’s lawsuit and is represented by Judy and David Cates of  Cates Law Firm of O’Fallon, Ill. Alford’s case has not been settled and she  will proceed in her private lawsuit without the EEOC.

“No one  should have to face sexual harassment and assault as part of their job,” said  EEOC’s St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr. “Ms. Alford was the only woman working in  this store for most of her tenure. She  was only 20 years old at the time of the alleged attack. It is important for employers to be vigilant  in protecting young employees, who are one of the most vulnerable segments of  the labor force.”

According to company information, Atlanta-based  Aaron Rents Inc. owns and operates more than 1,500 “rent to own” stores across  the United States and Canada. The company identifies itself as “the  nation’s leader in the rental, sales and lease ownership, and specialty  retailing of residential and office furniture, consumer electronics and home  appliances and accessories.”

The  EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further  information about the EEOC is available on its web site at