Jim Boyle Jul. 18, 2014, 7:41am


A former assistant general manager for an A.C. Moore located in Berks County has accused her supervisors of spreading false rumors about her and terminating her employment not only to avoid providing coverage under the Family Medical Leave Act, but also out of retaliation for her reports of sexual harassment.

Vanessa Rivera, of Lancaster County, ended her seven year employment with A.C. Moore with a resignation while getting escorted out of the Berks County store after her manager suspended Rivera's employment under suspicion of theft. Rivera later tried to rescind the resignation, saying the comment was made under duress, but her supervisors denied her attempt.

The plaintiff seeks damages for lost wages and backpay, compensatory damages for distress, embarrassment and humiliation, and punitive damages from A.C. Moore for seven counts including defamation, violations of her civil rights and wrongful discharge.

According to the complaint, Rivera began working for the A.C. Moore located in Lancaster, Pa., in 2007 as a part-time cashier and worked her way up over the years to assistant store manager in 2009. Her troubles began in 2010, when Rivera reported to the company's business abuse hotline that the store manager had been sexually harassing her.

After Rivera turned down his request to go out for drinks, the store manager allegedly began making racial remarks to Rivera, who was born in Puerto Rico, and created a hostile work environment. The complaint says that the store manager threatened Rivera by telling her that she had to put up with the treatment if she wanted to remain in her position.

The plaintiff says that upper management never responded to her report or make any actions to remedy the situation. As a result, Rivera transferred to a similar position in 2011 at another store, located in York County. During the transfer, Rivera was warned that the store general manager had a reputation for being a tough co-worker.

A month later Rivera reported again to the hotline that her new manager harassed the staff and showed favoritism. During the human resources investigation, the store manager was informed that Rivera reported her and retaliated by refusing to speak to the plaintiff or train her on important managerial tasks.

The hostile environment was too much for Rivera, the suit says, and she transferred in December 2011, this time to the A.C. Moore in Reading, Pa. In March 2013, Rivera informed her supervisor that she had become pregnant and required a restrictive workload.

On July 18, 2013, her sister traveled to the Lancaster store to return decorative birds meant as a baby shower gift for the plaintiff. According to the complaint, store employees were rude and belligerent to Rivera's sister, who speaks more Spanish than English. Rivera assisted her sister's attempt to phone the customer service line by lending her cell phone.

The phone call was traced back to the plaintiff's phone, and a human resources director allegedly retaliated against Rivera's involvement by denying her medical restrictions for work. Furthermore, Rivera was accused of using multiple reward cards under the name 'Vanessa Rivera,' exploiting the employee discount policy and employee rewards program.

A loss prevention officer suspended Rivera's employment and began to escort her from the building on July 24, 2013. During the incident, Rivera claims she was so worked up that she commented that her health was at risk and she was not returning. The investigator interpreted the comment as a resignation, and company management would not accept Rivera's attempt to revoke the resignation.

Rivera claims that the refusal was based on A.C. Moore's desire to retaliate against her reporting of sexual harassment and misconduct and to deprive the plaintiff of entitled medical leave for the birth of her child. The defendants are also accused of pushing falsehoods about her alleged theft, tarnishing her reputation.

The plaintiff is represented by Lancaster, Pa.-based attorney Nina Shapiro.

The federal case ID number is 5:14-cv-04308-JKG.

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