In June, a former employee of a Jonathan Adler store in Manhattan filed a lawsuit in federal court against the home decor company alleging he was fired after complaining about sexual harassment by a manager. Despite long-standing local, state, and federal protections against sexual harassment, this case highlights how workplace harassment is pervasive in the retail industry.
The plaintiff in the case started working at Jonathan Adler’s NYC flagship location in early 2020 where he claims he soon received unwanted attention from a male store manager who inappropriately touched him and asked about his sex life.
According to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court, the harassment was relentless. The manager allegedly made inappropriate comments about the plaintiff’s appearance, pinched his inner leg, and ran his fingers through the plaintiff’s hair.
In May 2020, the plaintiff complained to a regional manager who said an investigation would be conducted but also instructed him to remove the words “sexual harassment” from his complaint.
Even after complaining, he was occasionally forced to work alone with the manager, who was subsequently required to watch a sexual harassment training video but was not fired or disciplined, the suit claims.
The suit also alleges that the company then failed to pay the ex-employee his commission in August 2020, which came through the following month. He was fired four days later by the manager, saying he wasn’t the “right fit” at the company. However, the lawsuit claims he was unlawfully fired for engaging in protected activity under applicable employment laws.
The plaintiff is seeking damages including back pay, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The claim against Jonathan Adler could fall under the banner of supervisor harassment, which occurs when a person in a position of authority makes sexual advances or demands in exchange for a benefit of employment. This form of harassment is also referred to as quid pro quo harassment.
At the same time, the alleged harassment could be considered a “hostile work environment,” which arises when an employee is subjected to unwanted comments, conduct, or displays of a sexual nature by anyone in the workplace that are severe enough to interfere with his or her performance.
The complaint Jonathan Adler also alleges retaliation, which occurs when an employee is subjected to an adverse employment action (e.g. firing, demotion, discipline) for engaging in protected legal activity; complaining about sexual harassment is protected activity under local, state, and federal law.
While it remains to be seen how this lawsuit will be resolved, it is a reminder that anyone can be subjected to harassment in the workplace, regardless of their gender. If you have been harassed at work, talk to an employment lawyer.