Big Lots Settles EEOC Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $155,000

FORT SMITH, Ark. -- Big Lots Stores, Inc., which operates the Big Lots store at 4900 Rogers Ave. in Fort Smith, will pay $155,000 to four claimants and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC's lawsuit charged that the male store manager of the Fort Smith store subjected a class of female employees to sexual harassment, including sexually offensive comments and requests for sexual favors. The lawsuit further charged that after a female employee reported the sexual harassment, Big Lots failed to take the appropriate remedial measures necessary to protect its employees from continued sexual harassment, as the law requires.

Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division (EEOC v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., 2:11-CV-02184-PKH) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

Besides the monetary relief, the consent decree settling the suit includes:

Provisions for redistribution of Big Lots' harassment-free environment policy;

Mandatory anti-discrimination training;

Notice of the settlement to all Big Lots employees in its Fort Smith store; and

Requirements that the company report future complaints of sexual harassment to the EEOC for one year.

"Employers must realize that merely having and disseminating an anti-harassment policy is insufficient to satisfy Title VII requirements -- the policy must be enforced," said Regional Attorney Faye Williams of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, which serves Tennessee, Arkansas and Northern Mississippi. "When the policy is not enforced, employers risk liability."