Former Urban Outfitters Clerk Sues For Co.'s Indifference to Customers' Sexual Harassment

From the NY Daily News:

"Tatiana Swiderski, 25, said her bosses at the Fifth Avenue store turned a blind eye [to] the harassment — refusing to call cops on the pervy patrons and holing her away in the stock room for complaining.
'They made it their mission to make me feel invalidated,' Swiderski told the Daily News. 'They tried to make me feel like I was a crazy over-reactor.'"
Now she's suing the chain for sexual harassment and retaliation."  (link)

Some of the details:

"The sexual assault came just two weeks after security told her a man had been following her and another employee with a video camera and shooting up their skirts as they went up the stairs. While the guards made him erase the video, they let him go and refused to call the police or tell her his name so she could do so. Her suit even claims that a guard mocked her.
After she complained to management, a security guard allegedly told her to “stop being a stupid bitch.” She also claims that a guard began patting her down as she left work, something she felt was sexually inappropriate and not done to other employees."  (link)

Not only are the details pretty horrifying but it appears to be a potentially industry-wide issue:

"A 2002 study in Canada found that harassment for these workers doesn’t just come from coworkers, but from customers, as it did for Swiderski, which constitutes a “significant problem.” A majority of women in retail said they had been sexually harassed by customers on the job, but given that companies are focused on satisfying the customer, women face constraints in how they can handle it and many are reluctant to bring it up."  (link)

According to the EEOC, it is a clear violation of federal discrimination law for an employer to take no action in response to harassment of employees by customers -- where it has notice of the conduct:

"The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action."  (link)

The above response is, to put it lightly, clearly inadequate.

I was also struck by a throw away line in the middle of the NY Daily News. Interestingly -  the article notes that when Swiderski began working:

"She said there was an early sign of trouble — a co-worker told her she'd only been hired because she's 'tall, pretty, thin and white.'"  (link)

If that is accurate (which it may or may not be) Urban Outfitters may be headed for a repeat of  a large racial discrimination case brought by LDF regarding hiring for "the American look" at Abercrombie and Fitch:

"Th[at suit alleged that Abercrombie refused to hire qualified minority applicants as Brand Representatives working on the sales floor while discouraging applications from minority candidates. It also charged that in the rare instances when minorities were hired, they were given undesirable positions to keep them out of the public eye.
* * *
In November 2004, LDF and co-counsel reached a settlement with the company, winning $40 million dollars for rejected applicants and employees who had been discriminated against by the company. The settlement’s consent decree also required the company to institute a range of policies and programs to promote diversity among its work force and to prevent discrimination based on race or gender."  (link)

Of course this is just the hearsay statement of a co-worker.  But, if true, Urban Outfitters (or at least this store location) may also soon be facing suit on the race discrimination front.

It will be interesting to follow this case as it develops.