Ex-Ukrop's Worker Sues for Harassment 

A woman who worked at Ukrop's in Carytown for 21 years has filed a lawsuit against the grocery chain for $600,000, charging that she was sexually harassed and then wrongfully fired.

In her complaint, filed June 29 in Henrico County Circuit Court, Patricia F. Sutton says that her former employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because the company "retaliated against her by discharging her" when she reported what she believed to be a case of sexual harassment.

According to her suit, Sutton says she was among co-workers in the store's break room on or about Nov. 22, 2004, when a male employee — with whom she had no relationship — singled her out and remarked: "Good morning, I didn't sleep with you last night, how are you doing?" Sutton says she replied: "You're damn right you didn't, what is your damn problem?"

Sutton immediately reported the incident to a store manager, she says, and the next day, a representative with Ukrop's human resources department asked her what had happened. The day after that, the lawsuit alleges, Sutton was fired "ostensibly for the use of indecent language or profanity in the work place."

Meanwhile, the male employee who made the offensive comment was suspended from his job for three days, Sutton says in the suit.

Brian K. Jackson, vice president and general counsel for Ukrop's, said last week he was unaware of a lawsuit against Ukrop's. "If there has been one filed against the company, we have not received it yet," he said. "So it's not something I can comment on."

Sutton's attorney, Robert R. Dawson, says his client had sought to settle the matter out of court, but was unable to and now seeks a jury trial.

"We don't feel Ukrop's has been fully forthcoming" about Sutton's accusations, Dawson says. He says he took the case because of the apparent disparity in how two employees were treated.

In addition, Dawson says, Ukrop's "even contested her unemployment [compensation]," which Sutton received for a period of time. Sutton has not found another job, he adds.

Dawson says that Ukrop's attorney Jackson is well aware of Sutton's case. "We've engaged in conversations [with Ukrop's]," Dawson says, "but any offer they've made hasn't been sufficient."

Six months after the alleged break-room incident and Sutton's subsequent dismissal from Ukrop's, she filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But the EEOC, by sending Sutton what's called a "right to sue letter," has since passed on its option to take the case, says a spokesman with the EEOC office of legislative affairs. S

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