Home Depot Sued for Failure to Prevent Sexual Harassment

Home Depot is being sued by an employee who claims she was sexually harassed by a supervisor and, after reporting his behavior, retaliated against. She also claims the emotional distress she suffered as a result of the harassment constituted a disability, for which she was discriminated against.

Lynette Russo has worked at various positions for Home Depot since June 2014, but spent approximately two years as a paint associate, according to the complaint. 

In the summer of 2016 Russo was approached by her supervisor, Jimmy Guillen, who said he wanted her to work as an associate on his merchandising execution team. The offer appealed to Russo because it would involve driving to various stores throughout the region at 8:00 p.m., working the 10-hour graveyard shift, four days a week, and not on weekends. According to the complaint she is a single mother to two and this schedule would allow her to pick them up from school and spend weekends with them.

Just before Russo was to start, Guillen unexpectedly showed up at her house to supposedly give her a uniform shirt. He told her the extra small size would probably fit but he was worried that it would be “revealing on her ‘boobs,’” the complaint states.

On her first day on Guillen’s team he told Russo to meet him at a hotel instead of reporting to a store. He forced her to remove her shirt and told her she needed to cooperate if she wanted her job. “Even though she objected to it and said this was not right, [Guillen] engaged in sexual activity with her,” the complaint states. It continues to claim he told her she was “on the clock” and said “[d]o what I ask you to do and you’ll get paid.”

This activity continued for several months a couple of times a week. “In each instance, [Guillen] engaged in ‘quid pro quo’ sexual harassment against [Russo] – he engaged in sexual activity with her in exchange for allowing her to keep her job and get paid for the hours she was scheduled to work,”  the complaint states.

Russo claims that, when she objected, Guillen made “comments that made her fear losing her job including her pay and ultimately forced her to cave in to his demands,” such as, “[y]ou are in a bad position, so do what you are told.”

In late December 2016 Russo told Guillen that she could no longer take his behavior and would need to take a leave of absence because of it. She contacted Home Depot’s advice and counsel group.

Over the next three weeks Guillen retaliated against Russo by, among other things, forcing her to perform duties outside the scope of her position, like cleaning bathrooms and scrubbing floors. He also threatened to give her a bad review, but before he could she took an approved medical leave “as a result of the emotional distress she suffered as a result of [Guillen’s] conduct towards her,” the complaint states.

Russo received treatment for her emotional distress and contacted Home Depot in March or April 2017 and told them that she was able to return to work. The company refused to allow her to return. 

When Home Depot finally allowed Russo to return in June 2017, she claims they continued to retaliate against her by not allowing her to come back in her previous position, but instead as a paint associate at a store farther from her previous one. In addition, she claims she works fewer hours, during the day and on weekends, so she has to spend less time with her children.

Russo claims that Home Depot “willfully disregarded [her] right to be free from unlawful discrimination and retaliation at the workplace, especially when she engaged in protected activity by complaining about [Guillen’s] unlawful conduct towards her,” the complaint states.

Russo further claims that the emotional distress she suffered and for which she sought treatment constituted a disability about which Home Depot discriminated against by not letting her return to work in spring 2017 when her doctor released her and refusing to reinstate her to her former position.

Russo is represented by Lisa Watanabe-Peagler who filed the case in the Central District of California, Eastern Division.

Image Source: Mike Mozart (Flickr)