EEOC Sues Houchens Food Group for Sexual Harassment

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Houchens Food Group, Inc., owner and operator of Pic-N-Sav grocery stores in several states and headquartered in Bowling Green, Kentucky, violated federal anti-discrimination laws by tolerating a hostile environment of sexual harassment by a customer, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, from at least 2015 until 2020, female employees at the Pic-N-Sav grocery store in Evergreen, Alabama were subjected to frequent, unwelcome sexual touching by a regular customer of the store. Although female employees repeatedly complained to store supervisors, the company failed to take prompt corrective action to prevent or stop the harassment. After repeated complaints went unheeded, on June 5, 2020, one female employee called the police, who came to the store and issued the customer a trespass notice signed by the store manager. Nevertheless, the customer was still allowed to enter the store until at least September 2020, according to the suit.

“Subjecting employees to frequent or serious sexual harassment is illegal,” said Bradley Anderson, district director of EEOC’s Birmingham district. “When an employer knows of the ongoing sexual harassment, an employer has a duty to protect its employees even when the offending person is a customer.”

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits a hostile environment based on sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Houchens Food Group, Inc., Case No. 1:21-cv-00408) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages for the victims, including compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief against the company to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.

Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham district, said, “An employer cannot bury its head in the sand when faced with complaints of sexual harassment by its customer. Title VII requires employers to take prompt, remedial action when they become aware of sexual harassment by customers and other third parties against their employees.”

The EEOC’s Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties), and the Florida Panhandle.

One of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan is to address eliminating systemic harassment.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.  Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.

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