Retail Employee’s Lawsuit Claims Store Management Ignored Sexual Harassment by Customers

Photograph_of_Fifth_Avenue_from_the_Metropolitan—New_York_CityManagers at a popular retail chain location ignored a former employee’s complaints about harassment by customers and refused to report incidents of alleged assault to the police, according to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in New York federal court. Swiderski v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-06307, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Aug. 8, 2014). The lawsuit further alleges that several employees sexually harassed the plaintiff, that the company retaliated against her for complaining, and that it constructively discharged her. The plaintiff is asserting claims for discrimination, in the form of sexual harassment, and retaliation under the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq.

The plaintiff began working as a sales associate at the defendant’s store, located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, in September 2013, according to her complaint. The job involved regular interaction with customers, including sales and customer service. On or about November 1, 2013, she alleges that the store’s loss prevention security guard informed her that a customer had been following her and another female employee around the store, using his cell phone to take “upskirt” photos of them. The security guard allegedly made a copy of the man’s ID and deleted the photos from his phone, but did not contact the police. The plaintiff alleges that, after telling her this, the security guard asked her what she was wearing under her skirt. When she reported the matter to the store manager, he allegedly responded by asking “It’s a big city and you’re a pretty girl, what did you expect?” Swiderski, complaint at 3.

Other incidents described in the plaintiff’s complaint include a male customer who came into the store several times and sat under the stairs, where he allegedly looked up women’s skirts as they went up and down the stairs. Another customer, the plaintiff alleges, forcefully grabbed her top lip, “stating that he wanted to ‘see her teeth,’ and then licked her cheek.” Id. at 5. Neither the security guard nor the store manager reported any of these incidents to police, but the plaintiff claims she witnessed multiple incidents where the police were notified in cases of suspected theft.

The store manager and the security guard also allegedly harassed the plaintiff, often in direct response to her complaints. This allegedly included pat-downs by the security guard. After she reported one incident to the police herself, she alleges that she was reassigned to work in the stock room. In response to her complaint about the reassignment, she was allegedly told that “at least now people can’t molest you.” Id. at 7. She provided her two weeks’ notice on December 17, 2013, which she also claims as the date of her constructive discharge.

The lawsuit asserts causes of action for discrimination and retaliation under both municipal and state law. The plaintiff filed suit in federal court, claiming diversity jurisdiction since she is a resident of Kings County, New York and the defendant is incorporated in Pennsylvania. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

At Phillips & Associates, we advocate for victims of workplace sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other unlawful employment practices. We practice in the greater New York City area at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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Photo credit: By A. Balet (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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