EEOC Sues Costco for Sex Discrimination
Federal Agency Says Warehouse Giant Fostered a Sexually Hostile Work Environment When It Failed to Protect Female From Stalking Customer
CHICAGO -- Warehouse retail giant Costco violated federal law by fostering a sexually hostile work environment against one of its female employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today in federal court in Chicago.
According to the EEOC's complaint, Costco violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against sex discrimination, when the company failed to take steps to protect one of its female employees from unwelcome advances of one of its warehouse member-customers. John Rowe, the EEOC district director in Chicago, said that the agency's administrative investigation revealed that the employee repeatedly complained to her managers at the Glenview, Ill., Costco where she worked about being pursued, approached, and confronted in the Costco by the man. In addition, Rowe said, the employee eventually obtained an order of protection against the warehouse member for the unwelcome stalking.
"The employee's efforts weren't enough for Costco," Rowe said. "One of her managers apparently told the young woman that he agreed the man was 'not right' and that Costco would monitor the situation. But what actually happened was that when the situation persisted and the employee complained to the police, Costco management allegedly yelled at her and told her to be friendly to the customer."
John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago, said, "All employers have a duty to protect employees from sexual harassment whatever form that harassment may take - whether it's lewd remarks, groping, propositioning or stalking. No employer gets a pass because it is a customer targeting its employee, rather than a manager or fellow employee. That's particularly true when the harassment is especially egregious. If the employer permits the harassment to continue, it's compounding its liability and troubles."
Title VII protects employees from sex discrimination, including sexual harassment in the form of stalking on the job. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, EEOC v. Costco Warehouse Corp., Civil Action No. 14-cv-6553, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago and assigned to Judge Ruben Castillo. Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorney Richard Mrizek will lead the agency's litigation team.
Costco is an international membership warehouse retailer which, according to its website, has over 650 locations worldwide, annual revenues over $100 billion, and over 125,000 employees in the United States.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with area offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.