The Publix supermarket chain has won a partial victory in a sexual harassment case that spotlighted “nauseating” behavior by a store manager. The only bright spot for the grocer: The victim’s failure to properly report harassment means Publix may be liable only for retaliation.
In 2007, Publix customer service rep Lauren Scott filed a sexual harassment lawsuit based on sexually inappropriate behavior by Isaac Coen, who managed the South Florida store where Scott worked.
The lawsuit alleged Coen ordered Scott and others to give him back rubs, slapped male employees in the groin with the back of his hand, and grabbed employees’ buttocks. Once at an employee-appreciation picnic, Coen reportedly threw water on the white shirt of an employee’s daughter and asked, “Who wants to see boobs?”
Coen’s behavior was apparently so foul that the court hesitated to even record one incident. The judge wrote: “The Court will not further sully the paper this Order is entered on by repeating the same here. Suffice it to say the allegation is of an alarming and rather nauseating incivility that clearly adds to the magnitude of plaintiff’s claim.”
Overcome by disgust, the court granted that Scott had endured a hostile work environment. Even so, it ruled against Scott’s harassment claim because she had not properly reported the harassment to Publix. The chain’s sexual harassment policy requires employees to report harassment to a store manager, district manager or associate relations specialist. The court found that Scott understood the policy, but complained only to two lower-level managers at the store.
But Publix isn’t off the hook yet. Scott won the chance to argue a retaliation claim because after she complained, the company passed her over for a promotion. A jury will decide whether complaining about harassment cost her a better job.
Advice: Make sure your sexual harassment policies include specific reporting procedures, listing several people that employees may approach to complain.
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