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EEOC Resolves Sexual Harassment Case Alleging Manager Laughed In Response To Victim’s Complaint

woman with #metoo sign stop sexual harassment

Having litigated sexual harassment lawsuits for nearly twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys have learned that sexual harassment complaints are often met with ridicule or mockery by management.  As explained by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Curry v. District of Columbia, 195 F.3d 654 (D.C. Cir. 1999), federal anti-discrimination law “does not permit employers to stand idly by once they learn that sexual harassment has occurred.”  Once a sexual harassment victim makes a sexual harassment complaint, the employer is obligated to take prompt and effective remedial action to stop the harassment.  If the employer takes no remedial action or inadequate measures are taken to prevent recurrence of the harassment, then the employer is liable for the hostile work environment harassment.  The alleged facts in a sexual harassment case recently settled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are illustrative of an employer’s failure to take a sexual harassment complaint seriously.

Employers Must Stop Sexual Harassment

In a press release issued on July 26, 2019, the EEOC announced that it has entered into a Consent Decree to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Rockdale Grocery, Inc., d/b/a Piggly Wiggly (Piggly Wiggly).  On August 8, 2018, the EEOC filed the lawsuit, EEOC v. Rockdale Grocery, Inc., d/b/a Piggly Wiggly, Case No. 1:18-cv-3378, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia after initially attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its statutorily mandated conciliation process.  The EEOC brought the sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit on behalf of two former employees of Piggly Wiggly, Cynthia Thompson (Thompson) and Megan Baker (Baker).  In this article, our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment lawyers explain the EEOC’s allegations against Piggly Wiggly and the Consent Decree.

EEOC’s Sexual Harassment Allegations

In December 2016, Thompson began working at Piggly Wiggly’s store in Conyers, Georgia.  Throughout her employment, Thompson was sexually harassed by a male co-worker.  When Thompson first complained to the store manager about the harassment, the store manager laughed at her complaint and took no remedial action.  After her initial complaint, the co-worker approached Thompson from behind, pressed his genitals against her rear, and gyrated against her body.  After the store manager failed to take remedial action in response to her complaint about the incident, Thompson told the store manager that she wanted to make a written complaint.  Initially, the store manager told Thompson that she could not make a written complaint.  After Thompson’s multiple requests, the store manager allowed her to submit a written complaint.  On January 22, 2017, Thompson made a written complaint outlining the co-worker’s sexually harassing behavior toward her and Baker.  Two days later, Piggly Wiggly fired Thompson.

In December 2016, Baker also began working at Piggly Wiggly’s store in Conyers, Georgia.  During her employment, Baker was sexually harassed by the same co-worker who harassed Thompson.  The co-worker’s sexual harassment toward Baker included leering at her and making groaning noises and offering her money in exchange for sex.  In January 2017, Baker complained to the store manager about the harassment.  As with Thompson, the store manager took no remedial action to stop the harassment.  Because no remedial action was taken, Baker told the store manager that she wanted to make a written complaint.  As she did with Thompson, the store manager told Baker that she could not make a written complaint.  Shortly after Baker reported the harassment, Piggly Wiggly reduced her hours and then fired her.

Consent Decree Settling Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

In the Consent Decree settling the case, Piggly Wiggly agreed to pay Thompson and Baker a total of $50,000 to resolve the sexual harassment lawsuit.  In the Consent Decree, Piggly Wiggly also agreed to distribute an anti-discrimination policy and provide sexual harassment training to employees.  The EEOC further required Piggly Wiggly to provide the EEOC, for a period of one-year, with information regarding employees who have made a sexual harassment complaint, including the name of the employee, a description of the complaint, and a report detailing how the company resolved the complaint.  The EEOC also mandated that Piggly Wiggly take actions to protect the rights of the sexual harassment victims.  The EEOC obligated Piggly Wiggly to provided Thompson and Baker with a neutral letter of reference, and to change all references in its personnel records for Thompson and Baker from “terminated” to “voluntarily resigned.”

EEOC Vindicates Employee Rights

The EEOC is the administrative agency of the United States responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  In enforcing the federal civil rights laws, the EEOC is also authorized by federal law to bring lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual harassment.  In a press release issued by the EEOC regarding the case, a Regional Attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office, Antonette Sewell, stated that “[c]ompanies must take sexual harassment complaints seriously and encourage victims of sexual harassment to come forward, instead of penalizing them for reporting the abuse.”  The Director of the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office, Darrell Graham, added that “[n]o employee should ever have to endure a sexually degrading and humiliating work environment to make a living.”

Free Consultation With Inverness Harassment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys have almost two decades of experience representing sexual harassment victims in cases before the EEOC.  If you have questions about your protection against sexual harassment or retaliation under the federal civil rights laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys.  Our employment and labor law attorneys take sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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