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Sam’s Club May Have Fired Woman for Reporting Sexual Harassment

May 24, 2022, 5:20 PM

A former Sam’s East Inc. employee in Georgia may be able to prove she was terminated due to racial bias and because she reported that co-workers were sexually harassing her, a federal judge ruled.

Haley Harris can take her sexual harassment-based retaliatory termination claim to trial because a jury could reject the company’s explanation for firing her, the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia said Monday.

According to the company, Harris was discharged because the investigation of her harassment complaint showed that Harris sexually harassed another employee and she already had an active disciplinary charge against her for attendance issues. But that explanation could be viewed as pretextual because no one had ever accused Harris of sexual harassment prior to the probe of her harassment allegations, the court said.

And the accusations against Harris likely didn’t rise to the level of actionable harassment, Judge Clay D. Land said.

A male co-worker told investigators Harris said “she had feelings for” him and that he should just “get laid” whenever he was having a bad day. He also said other Sam’s associates told him Harris made remarks about wanting to have sex with him, but he admitted her alleged comments didn’t make him uncomfortable, Land said.

Harris also contends that Sam’s Club investigators never told her the male worker was accusing her of sexual harassment. She thus “had no meaningful opportunity to present her side of the story,” the judge said.

And the investigators only recommended that Harris be disciplined, not fired, but supervisor Madeline Torres decided to terminate Harris anyway, the court said.

Torres didn’t fire a Black employee, Bernicia Johnson, who investigators found harassed Harris, who is White, the court said. A jury must also decide if the decision to fire Harris, but not Johnson, was racially discriminatory, the judge said.

Torres said Johnson, unlike Harris, didn’t have an active disciplinary charge on her record, but the investigators took Harris’ existing charge into account when they made their recommendation, the court said.

Sam’s Club was granted summary judgment on Harris’ sexual harassment claim, sex-based termination claim, other race-based termination claim, and race-based retaliatory termination claim.

Maxine Wallace and Gwyn Newsom of Columbus, Ga., represent Harris. FordHarrison LLP represents Sam’s Club.

The case is Harris v. Sam’s E. Inc., 2022 BL 177944, M.D. Ga., No. 4:20-cv-00176, 5/23/22.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Brian Flood at bflood@bloomberglaw.com