Legal

Big Lots Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit with EEOC for $155,000

By Mike Tsikoudakis

Nov. 28, 2012

Bargain retailer Big Lots Stores Inc. has agreed to pay $155,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement resolves a 2011 lawsuit filed against a Big Lots store in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for allegedly violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after a store manager sexually harassed a class of female employees.

In the suit, the EEOC alleged that in 2009 store manager Robert Muntz began sexually harassing Lacey Deaton, a customer service specialist, by repeatedly requesting to see her breasts, according to court documents.

Deaton complained of Muntz’s sexual harassment by calling Big Lots’ corporate office. While the harassment temporarily stopped, Muntz eventually resumed his behavior, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division.

The Columbus, Ohio-based retailer allegedly failed to protect employees from continued sexual harassment, the EEOC said in a Nov. 27 statement.

Muntz allegedly similarly harassed other female employees at the Fort Smith location and also sent pictures of his genitals to at least one female employee, the EEOC said in the suit.

Big Lots “failed to take appropriate remedial measures to protect a class of female employees from sexual harassment … (and) is strictly liable for the sexual harassment of a class of female employees because of Mr. Muntz’s status as store manager at defendant’s Fort Smith, Arkansas, facility,” according to the lawsuit.

In addition to paying $155,000 to four claimants, Big Lots must redistribute its harassment-free environment policy, provide anti-discrimination training, and report future complaints of sexual harassment to the EEOC for one year, among others.

Having and distributing an anti-harassment policy to employees is not enough to avoid potential claims, the EEOC said in the statement.

“The policy must be enforced,” said Faye Williams, a regional attorney in the EEOC’s Memphis, Tennessee, district office, in the statement. “When the policy is not enforced, employers risk liability.”

Big Lots did not immediately return calls for comment.

Mike Tsikoudakis writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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