The EEOC filed suit on Tuesday against Walmart Inc., claiming female workers in a West Virginia store were subjected to "egregious" sexual harassment and the firing of one woman who complained.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's lawsuit, the manager of a Walmart Supercenter in Lewisburg, W.Va., subjected a class of female employees to unwelcome and offensive touching; requests for sexual acts in exchange for money or favorable treatment at work; requests that the women expose intimate body areas; and crude sexual innuendos.
"After the store manager subjected a female employee to particularly egregious harassment," the EEOC said in a news release on Wednesday, "she reported it to Walmart Stores East LP, and the company fired her in retaliation."
Both Walmart's and the store manager's conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC claims.
Title VII prohibits harassment and discrimination because of sex, and prohibits employers from firing workers in retaliation for opposing harassment or filing a complaint with the EEOC.
After trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement, the EEOC filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
"Employers must act promptly and forcefully to protect workers from sexual harassment," said Debra Lawrence, the regional attorney for the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office.
"All too often, employers choose to callously disregard that duty and punish workers for reporting harassment," Lawrence said.
Jamie R. Williamson, the office's director, said employees have the right to a discrimination-free workplace.
"No employee should have to endure offensive and sexual comments while in the workplace," Williamson said, especially from people in positions of authority.
The Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over West Virginia as well as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and parts of Ohio and New Jersey.
A Walmart spokesman said the company takes the matter seriously and that "the claims raised to our Ethics Department were investigated and were not substantiated."
"We will respond as appropriate once we are served with the complaint," the spokesman said.
Walmart doesn't tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind, the spokesman said, and wants all its employees to feel respected.
The EEOC is asking for a permanent injunction forbidding Walmart and its employees "from engaging in, or failing to take prompt, corrective action in response to sex-based harassing conduct and other employment practices that discriminate based on sex."
Another requested injunction would forbid the company and its workers from retaliating against anyone "who engaged in protected activity under Title VII," including reporting instances of sex-based harassment or discrimination, or who seeks help from the EEOC.
The agency is also asking for back pay for the woman who initiated the EEOC investigation and compensation for financial losses resulting from the employment practices described in court records.
It also seeks compensation for the woman and other current and former female employees at the Lewisburg store for non-financial losses such as emotional suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation.
Finally, it asks that Walmart pay the women punitive damages for malicious and reckless conduct.
The case is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP.