Fry's Electronics Pays $2.3 Million to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit
Agency Obtains Remedy for 'Sexted' Worker and Supervisor Who Stood Up for Her
National retailer 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 today. The EEOC had charged the company with harassing a young salesperson and firing a supervisor for standing up for her.
"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," said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez. "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."
According to the federal agency's lawsuit, an assistant store manager at the Renton, Wash., Fry's harassed 20-year-old sales associate America Rios, frequently sending her sexually charged text messages and inviting her to his house to drink. 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 (EEOC v. Fry's Electronics, Inc., 2:10-CV-1562-RSL) 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. 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 today 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."
"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 Rios. "I'm elated and relieved by the settlement, for Ka Lam's sake as much as for mine."
According to the company's website, www.Frys.com, the chain of retail stores specializes in software, consumer electronics, computer hardware and household appliances, and the company employs over 14,000 individuals in 34 stores located throughout the United States.