Aaron Rents Settles EEOC Sex Harassment Suit

Store Manager Subjected Customer Service Rep to Sexual Assault, Federal Agency Charged

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill.– The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced the settlement of an egregious harassment case against Aaron Rents, Inc., doing business as Aaron Sales & Lease Ownership (Aaron), for significant remedial relief on behalf of a young female worker who was allegedly subjected to a sexually hostile workplace and assaulted by a store manager.

In its lawsuit, filed on September 30, 2008, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Case No. 3:08-cv-00683-MJR-DGW), the EEOC alleged that the general manager of Aaron’s Fairview Heights, Ill.-based store made sexually explicit comments and requests for sex on a regular basis to Ashley Alford, a young customer service representative. The EEOC alleged that the manager repeatedly attempted to force Alford to have sex with him and that the harassment escalated until he sexually assaulted Alford in the store’s warehouse area.

According to the EEOC’s court-filed complaint, the male manager, “…touched Alford’s body in a sexually offensive manner on a number of occasions and he exposed himself to her several times. Alford complained to her direct supervisor and called the company hotline but no action was taken to end the harassment. In October 2006, [the manager] sexually assaulted Alford in the Fairview Heights facility.”

The EEOC’s proposed consent decree was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and is subject to approval by Judge Michael J. Reagan. The decree will provide significant remedial relief, including training for all managers within Arron’s St. Louis Region, reporting of any complaints of sexual harassment in this region, and improving its company-wide discrimination hotline. Alford intervened in the EEOC’s lawsuit and is represented by Judy and David Cates of Cates Law Firm of O’Fallon, Ill. Alford’s case has not been settled and she will proceed in her private lawsuit without the EEOC.

“No one should have to face sexual harassment and assault as part of their job,” said EEOC’s St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr. “Ms. Alford was the only woman working in this store for most of her tenure. She was only 20 years old at the time of the alleged attack. It is important for employers to be vigilant in protecting young employees, who are one of the most vulnerable segments of the labor force.”

According to company information, Atlanta-based Aaron Rents Inc. owns and operates more than 1,500 “rent to own” stores across the United States and Canada. The company identifies itself as “the nation’s leader in the rental, sales and lease ownership, and specialty retailing of residential and office furniture, consumer electronics and home appliances and accessories.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.