Starbucks Barista Alleges Trainer Sent Her Nude Photos

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By Patrick Dorrian

A Starbucks trainer in Sherman, Texas, sent a barista trainee nude photos of himself and otherwise harassed her, a federal lawsuit alleges ( Woods v. Starbucks Corp. , E.D. Tex., No. 4:17-cv-00417, complaint filed 6/14/17 ).

The lawsuit illustrates how off-duty communications between employees, particularly via social media, can create potential liability risks for employers as trainee Taylor Woods alleges that Jordan Brock’s misconduct started on Facebook and that some of the harassment was carried out on Snapchat.

Brock’s harassment also included inappropriate sex talk, requests that Woods send him nude photos of herself, and asking her to “come over,” according to Woods’ complaint. The lawsuit was filed June 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Woods says she complained to her store manager on two occasions. Brock forced his way into the second of those conversations, creating a scene in front of customers and co-workers, she says. The store manager then moved things into a private office, where Brock yelled and punched boxes and a table, prompting the store manager to “caress” his shoulders in an effort to try to calm him, Woods says.

The store manager told Woods she would “contact corporate” about Brock and to not go to human resources herself or Woods would be fired, the complaint says. Brock never was properly disciplined, and Woods’ work hours were soon cut and her schedule became erratic, Wood alleges.

The circumstances created or allowed by Starbucks subjected Woods to a hostile work environment based on sex and retaliation, forcing her to quit, according to the complaint.

Starbucks has not been served with the complaint and can’t comment on the specific allegations, a company spokesperson said June 14.

“We do not tolerate harassment of any kind,” the spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA in an email. Employees “can raise their concerns through multiple channels, and we take swift action if we find that a violation of our anti-harassment standard has occurred. We strive to provide a welcoming, accessible and safe environment for every partner and customer that comes to our stores.”

EEOC Watching Harassment in Restaurant Industry, Elsewhere

The prevention of sexual and other workplace harassment is an enforcement priority of the federal agency that oversees anti-harassment and other job rights laws, including Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That’s the law cited by Woods in her lawsuit.

The agency—the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—released Jan. 10 for public comment a draft of revised enforcement guidance on the issue of workplace harassment.

That followed a June 2016 report by a 16-member agency task force, which found that workplaces that rely on customer service or client satisfaction, those marked by limited communication between organizational levels, and those that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption by employees are most at risk for creating an atmosphere in which sexual harassment can flourish.

Many restaurants are exposed to all three risk factors, the EEOC found.

Retaliation, which is also a claim included in Woods’ complaint, remained the most frequently alleged type of discrimination in the charges filed with the EEOC during the agency’s 2016 fiscal year.

Ronald R. Huff represents Woods. No attorney had filed an appearance for Starbucks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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