Kohl's hit with wrongful termination claim over firing of minority worker

Jon Campisi Nov. 7, 2011, 1:22pm

A Pottstown, Pa. woman who claims the harassment she endured at her retail job eventually drove her into an “emotionally deteriorated” state requiring hospitalization has filed a federal employment discrimination complaint against her former company.

Trenton, N.J. attorney Mark D. Laderman, of the firm Lamensky, Cohen & Riechelson, filed the civil action Nov. 3 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Mae-Lene Miller.

The defendant named in the lawsuit is Memomonee Falls, Wisc.-based Kohl’s Department Stores.

According to the complaint, Miller, who was first hired by the company in 2003, was terminated from her position on May 31 of this year for what she claims were retaliatory reasons.

Miller had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on April 11 after what she contends were various incidents of harassment against her and other minority employees at the Kohl’s store that she worked at in Quakertown, Pa.

Miller claims the harassment coincided with the hiring of the Quakertown Kohl’s store manager in late 2008.

The lawsuit claims that in late April 2010, Miller discovered that the store, “without articulated reason,” had opened a loss prevention internal investigation against three minority employees of the store. No investigations, however, were opened against the approximate 120 white employees at the store.

During the next several months, the suit claims, the other two minority employees were fired, leaving Miller as the sole minority employee who remained.

In October of last year, a company human resources manager visited the location because of purported low morale, and it was during that time that Miller informed him of the alleged disparate treatment the minorities were receiving, the lawsuit states.

However, there was never any follow-up on Miller’s complaints, the suit claims.

In February of this year, the suit states, Miller discovered an email between the assistant sales supervisor and the loss prevention supervisor, detailing continued observations of Miller, including photos of her making purchases at the store.

Miller soon informed her store manager of the revelation, but when the manager questioned the two supervisors, they denied the allegations, even saying no such email had existed.

Following the meeting with her boss, the harassment escalated, the lawsuit alleges, to the point where she needed to be sent to St. Luke’s Hospital in Quakertown for treatment of her mental state. Doctors recommended that Miller take some time off of work.

Miller had a workers' compensation claim denied, so she formally requested a transfer to another store. It was at this point that Miller was fired.

“Plaintiff remains under a physician’s care as a result of the severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit claims. “Defendants and their agents by their discrimination and retaliation have caused Plaintiff lost pay and benefits, physical injury, mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation.”

The lawsuit contains counts of race discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Miller seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal costs and interest.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06889-MAM.

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