Fry's settles Renton harassment lawsuit for $2.3 million; victim elated
August 30, 2012 · 3:27 PM
Fry's Electronics agreed to pay $2.3 million and to implement preventative measures to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a consent decree filed by the agency Thursday.
The EEOC had charged the company with harassing a young sales associate at its Renton store and firing a supervisor for standing up for her, according to an agency press release.
"This was my first job, and I just wanted the harassment to stop. It really meant a lot to have my supervisor speak out for me, and it was horrifying to see him lose his job over it," said America Rios, the salesperson, in the press release. "I'm elated and relieved by the settlement, for Ka Lam's sake as much as for mine."
In the press release EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said "this seven-figure settlement, among the highest EEOC settlements ever on a per-claimant basis, follows court-ordered sanctions including a penalty of $100,000 due to Fry's abusive discovery tactics which included destroying relevant evidence, wrongfully withholding evidence, and filing frivolous motions."
"The case should send a clear message that sexual harassment of vulnerable employees remains a serious problem in this country, as is employer retaliation against those who report harassment," he said.
According to the federal agency's lawsuit, an assistant store manager at the Renton Fry's harassed Rios, the 20-year-old sales associate, frequently sending her sexually charged text messages and inviting her to his house to drink, according to the press release. After her direct supervisor Ka Lam reported the harassment to Fry's legal department, the company fired Lam. He was told that his termination was due to a decline in his performance despite the fact that his work was consistently commended.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. After attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Washington.
Rios and Lam were represented by Scott Blankenship and Rick Goldsworthy of the Blankenship Law Firm.
This case is somewhat unique in that Fry's attempted to have Rios, who joined the case later, excluded from the EEOC's litigation because her claim wasn't identical to that of Lam, who filed the original charge, according to the press release. Judge Lasnik rejected Fry's argument, and allowed the EEOC to litigate on behalf of both Lam and Rios.
Under the three-year consent decree filed Thursday with Judge Robert Lasnik, Fry's agreed to provide monetary relief to Lam and Rios, and take steps to prevent future harassment or retaliation, including ongoing training for all employees and management, reporting any complaints and the company's responses to the EEOC, and posting a notice for all its employees about the settlement as well as contact information for reporting harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo said, "Mr. Lam did the right thing when he raised a complaint on behalf of his subordinate who was being harassed. To be fired for following Fry's policies was a complete injustice. The EEOC stands ready to help protect the rights of workers who are fired when they try to assert their own rights, or those of their coworkers."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.