Even more than most lawsuits involving alleged workplace sexual harassment, a complaint filed Tuesday in Nashville's U.S. District Court raises the question:
What were they thinking?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims retailer hhgregg Inc. punished a worker from a Murfreesboro store after she protested the way the general manager there was treating her. In December 2008, according to the lawsuit, employee Courtney Keen showed a company regional manager texts her boss had sent her in recent months. Examples given in the legal filing include:
"U look so f**king hot!"
"Would u suck my d**k?" and
"I love secretly looking at u from across the store,"
As might be expected, hhgregg fired the general manager the next day. But the new general manager brought in to replace him wrote up disciplinary actions against Keen 12 times over the course of three and a half months, citing what the complaint calls "alleged performance issues." In mid-April of 2009, Keen was fired.
Keen had been working for hhgregg since 2004 and had been promoted to assistant manager in 2008. "Before 2009, her personnel evaluations reflected that she exceeded expectations," the lawsuit asserts, and she had never been disciplined before.
The EEOC is accusing hhgregg of retaliating against Keen for her exercise of a legally protected right in complaining about the harassment. It asks the court to award Keen compensatory damages as well as punitive damages for its "malicious and reckless conduct."
Mark Chen, senior trial attorney in the EEOC's Nashville office, is local counsel on the case with several other lawyers from the agency's Memphis and Washington, D.C. offices.
A spokesperson for the company said Wednesday afternoon that its policy is not to comment on pending litigation.