Trader Joe's is being sued by a former employee, who says he was fired for complaining about being given a gift resembling male genitalia during a 2014 Christmas party at one of the grocery chain's Pasadena stores. Paul D. Roberts' Los Angeles Superior Court complaint alleges wrongful termination, sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment, retaliation and negligence. He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. According to the complaint filed on Tuesday, Roberts was hired as a crew member at the Trader Joe's store on Lake Avenue in February 2007. In December 2014, a company Christmas party gift exchange was held and crew member attendance "was expected and implicitly required," the suit states.
The party occurred on a day Roberts was not scheduled to work, but he says he felt compelled to attend to maintain a good relationship with co- workers and supervisors.
After Roberts arrived at the party, co-workers seemed "excited" about his arrival and anxious for him to open his gift, which was given to him by co- worker Armina Asefvasziri, according to his court papers.
"Plaintiff opened the wrapped package and was shocked, embarrassed and humiliated to discover that the gift was a small penis with testicles which, when submerged in water, would increase in size," the complaint says. "Mr. Roberts was incredibly distraught in receiving such an obnoxious and offensive item, particularly in front of his supervisor and having received it from a female."
Roberts says he left the party feeling "humiliated and embarrassed." He filed an internal complaint and told supervisors that if he had given a similar gift to a female co-worker, he likely would have been reprimanded or fired, according to his court papers.
Roberts felt one of the bosses was nonchalant and did not take him seriously, and claims the same supervisor later interrogated him about false accusations Asefvasziri allegedly made about the plaintiff.
Meanwhile, Asefvasziri approached him four days after the party and teased him about his reaction to the gift, according to the suit.
A human resources staff member told Roberts in January 2015 that his complaint was being investigated, but he was fired two days later, according to his court papers.
His attorney, William Stoner, said: “The reason given was a pretext for the retaliation. They indicated that his work was unsatisfactory and unacceptable.
This is a unique case where you have a man that was being sexually harassed by a woman and then being fired after he complained about it.” said Stoner. In a more typical case, the roles would be reversed. It is no less harmful for the employee to be harassed when it is a man that is being harassed by a woman than in a situation that seems more common.
We believe that men as well as women can be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace and this case is an example of that type of situation,” Stoner said.
“We are seeking compensation for the loss of what had been his career for eight years,” Stoner said.