Monday, June 20, 2011

LensCrafters Settles "Reverse" Sexual Harassment Case for $192,500

In a case highlighting the emerging trend of female-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace ("reverse" sexual harassment), the largest optical chain in the country, LensCrafters, has settled a case filed by one of its former employees, William Sheard, for $192, 500. The suit was filed on behalf of Sheard by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and claimed Sheard fended off repeated come-ons from colleague Melissa Brandt in a LensCrafters store in Saginaw, Mich., and alleged that management ignored Sheard's complaints because he was a man being harassed by a woman.

From The Huffington Post article on the settlement:

According to the suit, Sheard started working at LensCrafters in 1998. In 2006, Brandt told him she wanted to have a relationship with him that was "more than platonic." Sheard declined. From then on, Brandt would reference sex acts in front of Sheard, talk openly about his body, touch and grab his chest and backside and tell him she loved him and wanted to have sex with him, the suit claimed.

At a holiday party in 2008, Brandt allegedly tried to grab Sheard's crotch several times, to the point where Sheard had to leave. After repeated rejections, Brandt eventually made a sexual harassment claim against Sheard, a charge she later admitted was false, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that LensCrafters management immediately investigated Brandt's charge while ignoring Sheard's.

"People witnessed things," Sheard said. "Nobody wanted to do anything about it."

Sheard repeatedly brought his issues to management -- at first the lab manager, and then up the company ladder -- all to no avail, he said. All told, the alleged harassment lasted for more than a year.

"I just kept taking it to higher authorities," Sheard said. "I'd take it to a supervisor, then to their supervisor, and it just kept getting overlooked. It blew up to a point that they had no choice but to try to do something about it. But at that point it was way too late."

Sheard left LensCrafters in 2008, after Brandt's father threatened him at the store due to his repeated complaints, according to court records. The EEOC took up Sheard's case and filed its suit the following year.

This suit, once again, highlights the importance of properly lodging complaints with management and HR when you feel sexually harassed as we have seen a plethora of cases dismissed when the plaintiff only first complaint through a lawsuit. Always remember that the employer has to receive a chance to remedy the harassment before a suit may be filed and stand a chance.

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