Lowe's Home Improvement to Pay $1.7M for "Rampant" Sexual Harassment

August 24, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, Inc. will pay $1.72 million and provide significant remedial relief to settle claims of what U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) acting chairman called "rampant" sexual harassment.

According to an EEOC announcement, the consent decree covers 37 Lowe’s stores in Washington and 13 stores in Oregon. In addition to the monetary relief for the three victims, the three-year consent decree resolving the case requires Lowe’s to provide comprehensive training to management, non-management, and human resources employees in all Washington and Oregon stores.

Lowe’s will also revise its sexual harassment and anti-retaliation policies, issue an anti-harassment statement to all employees in Washington and Oregon, revise its method for tracking employee complaints of harassment, and report regularly to the EEOC on harassment and retaliation complaints which arise in Washington and Oregon stores during the term of the decree.

The EEOC said two young men and one woman were subjected to widespread and repeated sexual harassment by male and female managers and coworkers at a Lowe’s store in Longview, Washington. The sexually hostile workplace, which endured for more than six months, included physical and verbal abuse which culminated in one instance of sexual assault, according to the agency.

Among the many allegations in the case, the EEOC claimed the female employee, age 21 at the time, was sexually assaulted by a 44-year-old male store manager in his office. Prior to the alleged assault, she was implicitly propositioned for sex by the manager related to a recent promotion she received. EEOC asserted that Lowe’s not only failed to take prompt remedial action to stop the sexual harassment, but also fired the three victims in the case.

“In this case, severe sex-based harassment of young workers was permitted to run rampant at one of the nation’s largest retailers. It is shocking that Lowe’s store managers actively engaged in, and even encouraged, such blatant unlawful conduct and then retaliated against the victims for objecting to it,” said Commission Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru, in the announcement.

Lowe’s employees in the two states will be trained on what constitutes harassment and retaliation, and on their obligation not to harass or retaliate against any individual. Managers and supervisors will be trained on what constitutes harassment and retaliation, their obligation to provide a discrimination-free work environment, and their responsibilities if an employee complains about harassment or retaliation, or if they observe it. Human resources personnel will be trained on what constitutes harassment and retaliation, how to institute policies and practices to correct past discrimination and prevent future occurrences, informing complainants about the outcome of internal investigations, and the steps Lowe’s will take to assure a discrimination-free workplace in the future.