A former employee of a Pasadena Trader Joe’s filed a wrongful termination suit alleging he was fired for complaining about an instance of sexual harassment. The incident occurred during a holiday gift exchange. The former employee, Paul D. Roberts, complained after receiving a gift resembling a male sex organ at the 2014 Christmas party at one of the Trader Joe’s grocery stores located in Pasadena, California where he worked at the time.
Trader Joe’s recently settled the suit with court papers in Los Angeles Superior Court indicating that the case was resolved without divulging specific terms of the settlement. Robert originally sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. His suit alleged wrongful termination, sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, negligence and workplace retaliation.
Trader Joe’s denies any wrongdoing on the part of the company in connection with the settlement and states that Roberts was treated “lawfully” during his employment at the Pasadena location – at all times.
Court documents indicate that Roberts was originally hired on as a crew member at Trader Joe’s in Pasadena on Lake Avenue in February of 2007. The cited Christmas party gift exchange occurred in December of 2014. Employee attendance was “expected” bordering on “implicitly required” according to the lawsuit Roberts filed. The day of the party, Roberts was not scheduled to work at the store, but he felt his attendance was necessary in order to maintain a positive relationship with his supervisors and co-workers.
Upon Roberts’ arrival at the party, he noted that his co-workers seemed excited to see him arrive and anxious to see him open his gift. The gift was handed to him by a co-worker, Armina Asefvasziri, according to court documents for the case. Roberts opened the wrapped package and was immediately “shocked, embarrassed and humiliated” as he discovered that the gift was a small penis with testicles that would “grow” when submerged in water. He was distraught by what he saw as an obnoxious and offensive item, especially as he received it in front of his supervisor and the co-worker who gave it to him was female. He stated that he left the party and later filed an internal complaint. He told supervisors at Trader Joe’s that if he had provided a similar gift to a female co-worker, he would have been reprimanded or even fired. He stated in court documents that he only received nonchalant responses – his supervisors did not take him seriously. In January 2015, a human resources representative for Trader Joe’s advised Roberts that the incident/complaint was being investigated, but according to statements made in the lawsuit, Roberts was fired two days later.
If you need additional information about wrongful termination or help determining whether or not you have legal grounds for suing your employer for wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.