EEOC sues Zale over harassment claim

A national jewelry chain has been accused in a federal lawsuit of allowing a Long Island store manager to engage in repeated sexual harassment of female workers-a charge that the chain’s president denied Wednesday, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn federal court, accuses the Zale Corp. of failing to take appropriate steps to stop the alleged harassment of four employees by a manager in the company’s Bailey, Banks & Biddle store at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, said Robert Rose, trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the AP reported.

Bailey, Banks & Biddle is an upscale subsidiary of the Irving, Texas-based Zale’s Jewelry chain, which has 2,300 stores nationwide.

Rose contends the harassment began in October 1998, when the unidentified manager was transferred to the Roosevelt Field store.

“They complained to management internally and the issue was not remedied,” he said to the AP.

The lawsuit claims the harassment included comments of a sexual nature, inappropriate, nonconsensual touching, and physical and verbally intimidating conduct, Rose said.

“It was a very uncomfortable, threatening environment,” Alyse Larkin, a former employee, said during a conference call Tuesday announcing the lawsuit, the AP reported.

Zale’s president, Alan Shor, denied the allegations and said his company has been “very proactive in trying to prevent this to the greatest extent possible,” the AP reported,

He said that when the company became aware of the complaints, store officials “immediately investigated and took proper remedial action consistent with procedure,” the AP reported. The store manager was demoted and moved to another store, he said.

“As to the specific allegations, we deny and dispute them and intend to defend the lawsuit vigorously,” Shor told the AP. “We take these claims very seriously.”

Shor said all store managers receive training on preventing sexual harassment, as do all employees at the company headquarters. He also said there is a toll-free telephone number available for employees to call with any complaints.