A federal judge has ordered Fry’s Electronics to pay a $100,000 penalty for its actions in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit involving a young female employee at its Renton store.
The charges were brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Fry’s was charged with intentionally withholding evidence, raising a “fallacious” argument and demonstrating a “disturbing lack of candor to the tribunal,” according to a statement by the EEOC.
“The Court finds that defendant’s conduct in this respect was unfair, unwarranted, unprincipled, and unacceptable,” said U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik.
This set of sanctions, announced July 3, are the second set of sanctions issued to Fry’s by Judge Lasnik in this litigation. On May 10, the court found that Fry’s had willfully destroyed evidence, including hard drives where relevant information may have been stored. The court also ordered that the jury be instructed to make an adverse inference on one of Fry’s defenses. Fry’s Electronics was represented by the law firm of Jackson Lewis.
The EEOC initially brought suit against Fry’s on Sept. 29, 2010, alleging that an assistant store manager sexually harassed a young female employee, America Rios. The agency also alleged that the company fired supervisor Ka Lam in after the supervisor complained to Fry’s management about the harassment. Lam intervened as a plaintiff in the agency’s lawsuit, which seeks relief for both individuals.
The court also found that Fry’s withheld detailed allegations of sexual harassment against the same assistant store manager made by another female subordinate in 2001, in addition to other evidence. Fry’s withheld the requested evidence until May 30, 2012, just a few weeks prior to a related arbitration held last month. Seattle attorney Scott Blankenship represented both Lam and Rios at the arbitration.
“Defendant has deliberately engaged in deceptive practices that undermine the integrity and orderly administration of these proceedings,” said Judge Lasnik.
The $100,000 sanction will help offset Lam and Rios’ costs caused by the company’s conduct and to “punish unacceptable behavior” and deter future bad conduct, according to a statement by the EEOC. The money will be shared by the court, the EEOC, Lam and Rios.
“As trial attorneys, we all expect zealous advocacy from the other side, but we also expect all parties to a lawsuit to play fair,” said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney John Stanley. “Violating discovery rules and orders of the court drags our profession down and does nothing to further the cause of justice.”
EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo approves of the outcome.
"Judge Lasnik took this matter seriously and sent a strong message to this employer and other litigants that the court will not tolerate discovery abuses and hide-the-ball litigation tactics," he said.
A trial date for EEOC v. Fry’s Electronics, Inc. has been set for November 5.