Fry’s to Pay $2.3 Million Settlement in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Two former employees at Fry’s Electronics store in Renton, Washington have won a $2.3 million settlement in a sexual harassment case against the national retailer. The lawsuit brought on by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charges the company with harassing America Rios and firing her supervisor, Ka Lam, for standing up for her. According to the lawsuit, in 2007 an assistant store manager at the Renton Fry’s store sent Rios, who was then 20 years of age, sexually-charged text messages and invited her to drink at his house. Rios declined and reported these events, but no one took her seriously except her direct supervisor, Lam, who reported it to Fry’s legal department. Lam stated that Fry’s corporate headquarters turned a deaf ear and that she was suddenly fired due to a purported “decline in performance,” despite maintaining a consistent, strong work record.
Both employees filed complaints with the federal EEOC. Based on a consent decree filed on August 30, 2012 by the judge, Fry’s agreed to pay $2.3 million in damages to both Rios and Lam. Fry’s is also required to conduct sexual harassment training to employees, improve sexual harassment reporting procedures and report back to the EEOC.
State and federal law generally define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual conduct of two main types: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when employment is conditioned, expressly or impliedly, on the submission to unwelcome sexual advances. The more frequent type of sexual harassment, hostile work environment harassment, generally occurs when the employee’s work environment is made hostile or abusive by sexual misconduct.
Although the EEOC matter against Fry’s took place in Washington, workplace sexual harassment is prohibited in California through virtually identical laws. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), harassment includes gender harassment or sex-based harassment, i.e., conduct that shows hostility based on gender even though the conduct itself was not sexual. An example of this type of harassment would be a supervisor’s hostile comments that “women do not belong in the work place.” To prevail in a sexual harassment claim, the plaintiff must prove that that the sexual harassment was severe or pervasive enough to alter working conditions and create an abusive environment. Further, under California law, if a supervisor sexually harasses an employee under his or her supervision, or retaliates against an employee under his or her supervision, there is grounds for a strict liability claim against the employer. In other words, if a plaintiff can prove that the harassment occurred, the company is automatically liable for damages awarded against the supervisor, without the employee having to prove the company was negligent or even did something wrong. California law further protects employees who suffer retaliation for engaging in protected conduct. Examples of protected conduct include employees who make internal complaints or refuse to engage in illegal conduct.
If you believe you have been subjected to workplace sexual harassment or have been retaliated against after reporting perceived misconduct at your workplace, contact the attorneys at Khorrami, LLP, for an immediate and confidential evaluation.