New York, NY- A barista for a Manhattan Starbucks filed a retaliation lawsuit against the coffee giant alleging she was fired after complaining about years of sexual harassment at the hands of her coworkers.
In February of this year, Holly Wu sent a letter to her district manager detailing the repeated sexual harassment she endured from her coworkers. But just three weeks after sending the letter Wu was fired for asking one employee to stay 45 minutes past their shift. Wu believes she is being punished for complaining about her coworkers’ behavior.
In her email, Wu, who has worked for Starbucks since 2012, said her coworkers showed share pornographic images with her at work and propositioned her for sex. Wu was given the nickname “big booty Holly,” according to the New York Daily News, and said her coworkers attempted to touch her buttocks repeatedly.
“My co-workers touched and massaged me when I didn’t want them to,” she told the Daily News.
Although the company has strict sexual harassment policies, Wu said they failed to investigate her allegations and believes her firing was retaliation.
Her suit filed in a Manhattan Supreme Court last week is seeking unspecified damages and alleges the Starbucks violated their own policies when they refused to conduct an investigation. The suit also list at least eight complaints of sexual harassment the company has received since 2008.
According to the Gothamist, the most recent complaint of sexual harassment was filed in March by a 23 year-old woman who alleged her supervisor coerced her into having sex and repeatedly groped her.
Starbucks refused to comment on the pending litigation but said they have strict “zero tolerance” policy against sexual harassment.
Retaliation is a common reaction employers have when they receive complaints of sexual harassment. Employers have this mistaken notion that getting rid of an employee or punishing them will make the allegations go away, but it can often make matters worse for an employer and be very costly in the long run. Taking steps to stop harassment is in the best interest of everyone.
Retaliation often entails dismissal but it is not limited to that. Sometimes an employee will have their hours cut or have their days off requests denied. An employee who reports theirs or another’s sexual harassment may be denied promotions or raises all because they choose to report an offending employee. In some cases, a reporting employee may be subjected to hostility from other employees who may have an allegiance with the accused.
From a legal standpoint, retaliation can be much easier to prove than the actual sexual harassment since the allegations are a matter of one person’s word against another’s. Proving both the harassment and retaliation can be challenging unless the victim retains a sexual harassment attorney who knows who to investigate and build a strong case.
A sexual harassment lawyer can seek damages for their client’s emotional distress and any wages they lose because they were forced to quit of fired.