American Greetings Corporation, a leading producer of greeting cards, will face a jury trial to decide its responsibility for subjecting a female employee to harassment, according to a new federal court ruling. Jeff and his law firm represent the employee.
The lawsuit centers on Laurie Albright’s courageous decision to come forward and share her story, shedding more light on the pervasive issue of workplace harassment. According to the lawsuit, credible and serious reports about harassment were allegedly met with indifference until the harassment crossed the line into criminal conduct. The case highlights the importance of employers taking proactive steps to protect employees from harassment.
Read media coverage about the case: American Greetings Merchandiser Gets Trial Over Supermarket Kiss.
Laurie was employed by American Greetings as a merchandiser responsible for maintaining the greeting card products within Jewel-Osco stores. When she worked at the Jewel-Osco store in Lockport, she was constantly harassed by Assistant Store Director Richard Carlson. Carlson was 65 years of age and 20 years older than Laurie.
According to the lawsuit, Carlson repeatedly gave Laurie unwanted hugs while saying “give me some love”; he would come up from behind her and touch her back side by removing items from her back pockets; he would stroke her hair and talk about how her hair was “soft”; and he would comment on her appearance saying things like “It looks so much better when you curl your hair” and “I like it when you wear your hair like this.”
Laurie followed company policy by reporting Carlson to her manager, but she was told that Carlson “was retiring soon” and she needed to keep working at his store. Laurie’s reports were never escalated to HR for a formal investigation.
On Valentine’s Day, Laurie brought up the issue with Carlson to her manager once more. However, she was directed to return to the store. The following day, Carlson located Laurie in the greeting card aisle and approached her from behind. He placed his hand on her hips, spun her around, and gave her a kiss on her face, which she described as “disgusting.” According to Carlson, the kiss was “an involuntary action.”
Laurie informed her manager about Carlson’s kiss, but when no immediate action was taken, she took matters into her own hands and reported Carlson to the police for further investigation. Ultimately, Carlson pled guilty to criminal charges for his misconduct.
American Greetings filed a motion in the lawsuit aiming to secure a favorable outcome without a trial. They attempted to diminish the seriousness of the harassment and argued that Carlson’s conduct did not constitute a violation of the law.
The ruling rejected these arguments stating, “the Court is also loath to describe this series of actions, which includes allegations of repeated conduct and physical contact, and the undisputed fact that a police report was filed . . . which resulted in a criminal conviction for battery for Carlson, as insufficiently severe as a matter of law for purposes of a hostile work environment.” The Court concluded the evidence would allow a jury to find that American Greetings could have taken measures to protect Laurie from the harassment, but failed to do so. The ruling also concluded that Jewel-Osco was not Laurie’s employer and they were dismissed from the case. Read the ruling here.
American Greetings has denied the allegations, and the jury will have the final say about whether a civil rights violation occurred. Nevertheless, the ruling reinforces the importance of employers taking harassment reports seriously to ensure their employees experience a safe and respectful workplace.
A trial date is expected to be set at a hearing later this month.
The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and captioned as Albright v. American Greetings Corporation et al., Case No. 19 C 4853.
Are you experiencing harassment at work? Contact Jeff.
NOTICE: The information contained in this post comes from allegations made in a legal complaint which was filed in the public record with the court. Please note that this is a contested matter. As a result, it is expected that the allegations will be opposed or denied by other parties and the court has not ruled on the merits as of the date of this statement.