Anita Bala (left) and Rachel Berlin Benjamin of Buckley Beal. Anita Bala (left) and Rachel Berlin Benjamin of Buckley Beal (Courtesy photos)

A woman who worked in a grocery store has filed a lawsuit against the parent company alleging failure to take action against a manager who was sexually harassing and assaulting her. The company has denied the charges, saying her allegations are just not true.

Sierra Gaines is represented by Rachel Berlin Benjamin and Anita Bala of the plaintiffs labor and employment firm Buckley Beal in Atlanta.

“Our hope with this lawsuit is obviously to get some justice for Ms. Gaines,” Benjamin said. “But also sexual harassment in the workplace is very real, and we’re hopeful that employers will start taking these types of cases more seriously, because no employee should have to experience this in the workplace or anywhere else.”

In an amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Gaines has accused her former employer—All American Quality Foods Inc., doing business as Food Depot—of providing a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and failing to stop a manager from harassing and assaulting her.

The complaint alleged that a former supervisor at the Food Depot in Macon “subjected her to constant sexual and lewd comments and unwanted physical touching.”

“Ms. Gaines repeatedly complained to her supervisors,” the complaint said. “Food Depot utterly failed to take any action.”

The complaint said the manager “sexually assaulted Ms. Gaines on multiple occasions during her employment”—which began in October 2016. The “conduct was so severe that it led to Ms. Gaines’ father visiting the Food Depot store to speak with the Store Manager about the sexual harassment that his daughter was enduring.”

Gaines alleged that, rather that correcting the problem, management retaliated against her by increasing her workload, requiring her to work excessive hours and criticizing her for “bogus” offenses until she finally quit. She said the store later fired the manager in question because he sexually assaulted another woman who worked there.

All American Quality Foods is being defended by Rod Meadows of Meadows, Macie & Sutton in Stockbridge. Meadows provided a statement from All American Quality Foods, which does business as Food Depot and operates grocery stores in 41 locations in the state of Georgia. The company said it is employee-owned and “committed to the fair, equitable, and appropriate treatment of its employees.”

Company officials said they are “not aware of any inappropriate touching or sexual assault” of the woman who filed the complaint. “Ms. Gaines never brought such an allegation to the attention of the company during her employment. When Ms. Gaines advised her manager in the Produce Department of a complaint of inappropriate comments” from a manager in the Meat Department, her manager and others “took appropriate steps to address the issue and followed up with Ms. Gaines to ensure there were no further issues.”

“Following that initial report, Ms. Gaines did not report any additional incidents,” the company said, adding that the man in question was never her supervisor. The company said that months later, management received a second report from a different employee alleging “inappropriate conduct” against the same manager.

“After providing him a brief opportunity to respond to the allegation, his employment was terminated by the company,” All American said. “The company strenuously denies maintaining a hostile work environment, engaging in retaliation or otherwise violating Ms. Gaines’ rights as she alleges in her lawsuit and looks forward to providing compelling evidence of its position to the court.”

“As you are aware, plaintiffs can make any allegations that they wish in a complaint, without providing any documentation as to the credibility of the allegations,” Meadows said Thursday by email. “At this early stage of the litigation, the company has provided its response based upon its reasonable efforts to ascertain the actual facts regarding those allegations. However, at this point, no written discovery or depositions have been provided which would in any way validate the serious assertions that have been made by the plaintiff and her counsel.”

The Buckley Beal attorneys said the company’s denial is predictable but that they intend to prove their case at the appropriate time.

“No meaningful discovery has taken place,” Benjamin said.

Added Bala, “We expect the information to come out when we actually engage in discovery.”

The case is Sierra Gaines v. All American Quality Foods, No. 1:19-CV-01123-CC-JSA.