Lawsuits

Arizona Women Get $700,000 to Settle Lowe's Strap-On Sex Harassment Suit

Lowe’s settled a sexual harassment discrimination complaint on September 16 after female employees alleged more than a decade of abuse in a Lake Havasu City store.
Lowe’s settled a sexual harassment discrimination complaint on September 16 after female employees alleged more than a decade of abuse in a Lake Havasu City store. Mike Mozart / Flickr
Three Arizona women will receive a total of $700,000 to settle their sex discrimination lawsuit against Lowe's that alleged more than a decade of "open, notorious, and frequent" abuse by a male co-worker.

The Mooresville, North Carolina-based home improvement giant settled the lawsuit on September 16. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and The Foster Group, an employment law firm in midtown Phoenix, sued Lowe's on August 30 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix after attempting to negotiate a settlement for more than a year.

One of the women had just turned 56 when she started working as a customer service specialist at a Lowe’s in Lake Havasu City in 2008. Five days a week, she worked shoulder-to-shoulder with a male customer service specialist who subjected her "to unwelcome sexual conduct on a daily basis," according to the lawsuit. That conduct, the complaint alleged, included referring to the woman as "lunch," mentioning her "coming," and telling another employee that he'd like to see her "strap one on."

The woman told the male co-worker to stop and reported the harassment to supervisors over a period of 10 years before filing a grievance through a Lowe's telephone hotline in 2018, according to the lawsuit. After reporting the harassment, the woman went on short-term disability due to the stress and anxiety caused by the continued sexual harassment, according to court documents. Lowe's response was to force the woman to choose between returning to work with the people who didn't protect her from the harassment or quit, according to the complaint.

A second woman, who transferred from Texas to the Lake Havasu City store in 2012, also faced harassment from the same male co-worker, according to the suit. She said that the man described “how he likes to have sex” and "his sexual performance with his wife," as well as made "statements related to his penis," according to the complaint. The man would also often thrust his hips and simulate oral sex, the complaint alleged.

The two women filed grievances with management “on several occasions” in the fall of 2018. Again, there was no action by Lowe's, according to the complaint. It’s not clear why the women waited so many years to contact the complaint hotline. The hotline has existed since at least 2013, according to the Lowe’s code of conduct.

“They did all the right things,” Troy Foster, the lead attorney for the two women, said in an email to Phoenix New Times. “After reporting the harassment to their management, the harassment just got worse, and they lost their jobs. Harassment cannot be tolerated.”

On Friday, District Court Judge Steven Logan approved a consent decree that awarded the two women, and a third victim of sexual harassment at the store, a total of $700,000 in back pay, medical expenses and damages for emotional pain and suffering, according to court documents.

The three women declined interviews with New Times. A spokesperson for Lowe’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“After a four-year battle and 10 years of abuse, our clients aren’t up for conversation as they are looking forward to putting this behind them," said Montana Kint, a spokesperson for The Foster Group.

The settlement requires the Lowe’s location in Lake Havasu City to revamp its anti-discrimination policy, make a real effort to investigate complaints of sexual harassment, and bolster employee training on sexual harassment for the next three years. The company was also ordered to provide letters of reference to the three victims.

Logan also ordered Lowe’s to forward all new complaints of discrimination to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“The EEOC is committed to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace,” Casey Arellano, a trial attorney in the EEOC's Phoenix office, said in a prepared statement. “Employers must take action to stop all sexual harassment when they become aware of it so that workers can focus on doing their jobs and providing for their families.”

This case is the latest in a string of impassioned legal, union, and public awareness campaigns against big corporations in Phoenix. Earlier this month, a Phoenix woman sued Lyft over alleged sexual assault.

“We are honored to have represented these brave women, who have managed to pick themselves up and piece their lives back together after being knocked down and dragged through an extremely vulnerable process,” Foster said. “It probably will help countless other women.”

The consent decree and the statements from the EEOC and The Foster Group did not say what happened to the man who allegedly harassed the women.
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss