Following a $95 million jury verdict against Aaron’s Inc in a sexual harassment lawsuit, which was eventually settled for $6 million, the retailer now finds itself facing two new sexual harassment lawsuits that were filed against the company on November 5, 2012 by two former employees.
Elizabeth Cook, 23, and Brittany Sowell, who was 19-years-old when she started working at the Aaron’s store in Bainbridge, Georgia in July 2010, have accused the store general manager Benjamin Duncan of subjecting them “to disgusting and degrading sexual harassment” and to an “inappropriate and outrageous” sexually hostile work environment that included “unsolicited stalking, sexual propositions, lewd and indecent behavior, as well as repeated sexual assault, physical assault and battery.”
From August 2010 until his suspension in May 2011, Duncan allegedly made lewd, vulgar sexual comments and repulsive sexual propositions to Cook and Sowell on an almost daily basis. Comments that Duncan allegedly made on a daily basis to Cook, who was pregnant at the time, include, “Your breasts are jiggling nicely today;” “I want to lick your breasts;” “I want to touch your breasts;” and “I want to feel your boobs.”
According to the complaint, “General Manager Benjamin Duncan complained to Plaintiff BRITTANY SOWELL about his sex life with his wife, and regularly made vulgar remarks such as: “My wife won’t let me put it in her butt;” “My wife won’t let me get it from behind;” and “I’m in a bad mood because I ain’t had none this week.””
Duncan allegedly slapped and grabbed Sowell’s buttocks on a weekly basis, and once allegedly slapped Sowell’s buttocks with a fly swatter and pinched her buttocks with a pair of pliers. For about five months until Cook left for maternity leave in February 2011, and after she returned from maternity leave in April 2011, Duncan allegedly grabbed, groped and squeezed Cook’s breasts on more than a dozen occasions.
Duncan was also allegedly prone to violent outbursts. The complaint describes the following incident:
On or about November 9, 2010, Cook told Duncan he had a telephone call. Duncan “became angry, yelling that he was busy and tired of taking so many telephone calls and suddenly, without warning, grabbed a metal bolt wrapped in paper from a dining table that was being assembled by a technician behind him and violently threw it across the room at Plaintiff. The bolt struck Plaintiff in the mouth, cutting her lower lip and causing it to bleed. Mr. Duncan then stormed across the room toward Plaintiff and waved his fist in the air at her face. Plaintiff, terrified and hurt, sobbed. She was five months pregnant at the time.”
“While still in tears, Plaintiff ELIZABETH COOK telephoned Regional Manager Travis Morath and informed him what had occurred. Regional Manager Travis Morath seemed concerned by Plaintiff’s level of anger, tried to calm her down, and remarked, “That’s all bullshit! He knows better than that.” Regional Manager Travis Morath promised Plaintiff ELIZABETH COOK he would come to the store and take care of the matter. However, nothing changed.”
Sowell and Cook allege that their complaints to Aaron’s management were ignored or met with retaliation. On approximately eight occasions, the women allegedly complained about Duncan’s sexual harassment to Regional Manager Travis Morath. The women claim that Morath was non-responsive and did nothing to redress the situation.
Morath also allegedly watched pornographic movies with Duncan on Duncan’s cell phone in his office on approximately three occasions.
After the women complained about Duncan’s harassment, they allege that he began to threaten them with violence. According to the complaint, on repeated occasions, Duncan told Sowell and Cook that he could kill them without a trace. He allegedly told them that he had “psychopathic tendencies” and that he has “several ways of killing bitches! Snitches wind up in ditches, and if you EVER tell on me nobody would find you. I know how to hide a body, and I know how to kill someone without being traced!”
The complaint describes the following alleged violent threats:
- Duncan “took a light bulb, smashed it on his desk and ground it up to show Plaintiffs and Customer Accounts Manager Cheshire Trawick how he might put the shards in their food and have them unknowingly ingest it, causing them to suffer internal bleeding.”
- “Duncan followed Plaintiff BRITTANY SOWELL to the back of the warehouse, locked the door, turned off the lights, began beating on boxes with his fists and shouting, “I’m gonna git you,” and began chasing her through the warehouse. Plaintiff was terrified and ran from him, screaming. Mr. Duncan stopped when Elizabeth Cook came to the back, unlocked the door and turned the lights back on.”
- In late November 2010, Duncan threatened Cook by telling her: “I have no shame in hitting a pregnant bitch! I’ll kill your unborn child and cut it out!”
- On approximately 15 occasions, Duncan threatened Cook and her unborn child by telling her: “I’ll punch you in the stomach!” or “I’ll make it come out retarded!” or “I’ll cut your unborn baby out!”
On May 9, 2011, Duncan was fired. Aaron’s terminated Sowell on July 31, 2011, and Cook was terminated on June 11, 2012.