Collaboration in Civic Spheres

EEOC Seattle office charges Fred Meyer with overlooking sex harassment

by Melissa Steffan July 14th, 2011

SUMMARY: The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Seattle Field Office has charged Fred Meyer Stores, Inc., with failing to address blatant sexual harassment of female employees by a customer at one of its stores in a Portland suburb who over a two-month period in 2009 grabbed the breasts of three female employees; touched the buttocks and tried to pull onto his lap another worker; and groped the knee and rubbed against the body of a third. According to the EEOC’s July 12 complaint, Fred Meyer “subjected … female employees to a sexually hostile work environment” at the Oak Grove store in Milwaukie, Ore., in 2009. Failure to correct instances of sexual harassment on the basis of gender in the workplace constitutes unlawful employment practices, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The case will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and will seek monetary reparations for damages to the employees. Company spokesperson Melinda Merrill said Fred Meyer stores is examining the complaint and will soon file a response with the EEOC.

BACKGROUND:

  • This case arose after Fred Meyer managers failed to respond to reports of sexual harassment by a customer, according to a July 12 EEOC press release. Though the employees complained and offered firsthand accounts of sexual harassment, their managers dismissed the claims. The press release stated that managers told the women “their reports were not actionable unless witnessed by management or the loss prevention department.”
  • A similar sexual harassment case arose against Fred Meyer in December 2008, when the EEOC successfully filed suit against the Fred Meyer store in Oregon City. According to an EEOC press release about that case, Fred Meyer agreed to pay $485,000 in damages to three female employees after a federal court judge found that one store director and operations manager had sexually harassed the women, while another human resources manager had witnessed the harassment and failed to report the incident for investigation.
  • Fred Meyer Stores is headquartered in Portland, Ore., and operates over 130 stores in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Fred Meyer is part of the Kroger Company. The EEOC, which filed the charges against Fred Meyer, is the state agency charged with enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws. Jurisdiction for the Seattle office includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

KEY LINK: Complaint against Fred Meyer, Inc., U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, July 12, 2011

KEY FINDINGS:

  • According to the charges filed by the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office on July 12, Fred Meyer managers at the Oak Grove store in Milwaukie, Ore., violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 when they dismissed multiple sexual harassment claims filed by three female employees, Laura Morrow, Kelli O’Neal, and Victoria Settle.
  • The EEOC claims that Fred Meyer subjected the women to “a sexually hostile work environment because of their sex (female).”
  • According to the EEOC complaint, one regular Fred Meyer customer, Charles Janac, visited the Oak Grove store on a daily basis, sitting near the employees’ time clock and offering unwanted sexual contact to Morrow, O’Neal, and Settle. The complaint alleges Janac grabbed the breasts of all three employees; touched the buttocks and tried to pull onto his lap another worker; and groped the knee and rubbed against the body of a third. Morrow, who complained to her employer, said she was directed to serve Janac as a regular customer.
  • According to the press release, Morrow said, “I reported this problem time and time again and they didn’t do anything to protect me.”
  • The EEOC alleges that Fred Meyer failed to respond to the employees’ multiple sexual harassment complaints, deprived them equal employment rights, and intentionally condoned unlawful workplace practices.
  • If the EEOC claims are found to be true, Fred Meyer’s actions would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids sexual harassment in the workplace. When employers receive a sexual harassment complaint, they are required to investigate the claim and stop the behavior.
  • According to the July 12 EEOC press release, the EEOC first attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with Fred Meyer. Now, however, the EEOC lawsuit seeks not only monetary damages on behalf of the female employees, but also increased training on anti-discrimination laws for Fred Meyer employees and other measures to prevent any future sexual harassment in Fred Meyer stores.

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