Tuesday, March 20, 2001

The Safeway store in Kapolei, where the alleged incidents
took place, according to a sex harassment lawsuit.

Kapolei Safeway
was hotbed of
sex harassment
in 1990s

A federal lawsuit reveals
a peephole in the restrooms
and other crude activity

By Rob Perez

A peephole in the restrooms at the Kapolei Safeway enabled workers during parts of the 1990s to peer at customers using the bathroom, according to court documents in a recently settled federal government lawsuit accusing the retailer of sexual harassment.

In one incident from the mid-90s, a male employee suffered an injury when a woman customer shoved a toilet plunger through the hole, striking the worker's eye. The employee was fired, the company said.

But a spokeswoman for the national supermarket chain said Safeway was aware of only one other incident, which happened in 1999 and did not involve an employee.

Both holes were covered as soon as the company learned of them and no problem exists today, said Debra Lambert, Safeway's corporate public affairs director in Pleasanton, Calif.

"Those issues were resolved," she said.

The peephole incidents were mentioned in documents from a 1999 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accused the national retailer of sexually harassing then-Kapolei food clerk Timothy Quitoriano and retaliating against him when he complained.

The lawsuit was settled last month, with Safeway denying any wrongdoing but agreeing to pay Quitoriano $250,000. He no longer works for the company.

Many other allegations were raised in the commission's lawsuit, mostly focusing on the mid- and late 1990s at the Kapolei store, the only supermarket in a community of hundreds of homes.

Lambert said the company disputed the vast majority of the allegations, calling them "highly sensational." Allegations are easy to make, but merely raising them does not mean they have substance, she said in a statement.

"It would be irresponsible to use old, disputed and unproven allegations to negatively impact the reputation of the fine group of men and women who work at Safeway's Kapolei store," Lambert wrote.

Many of the allegations Quitoriano made in a sworn affidavit and deposition were corroborated in sworn statements from at least one other person.

Among the corroborated allegations were that:

>> Male store managers used the store's hidden surveillance camera to zoom in on attractive women customers.

>> Male managers and workers tried to peek up the dresses and skirts of women customers by looking at the customers' reflections in metal strips near the base of certain refrigerator and freezer compartments.

>> A male manager pinched Quitoriano's chest and on other occasions rubbed a featherduster up and down his backside while Quitoriano was working in the aisles.

Had the EEOC case gone to trial, seven people who worked at the store in the '90s were scheduled to testify about sexual harassment problems, according to the agency's list of witnesses. The woman who filed a peephole complaint in 1999 also was scheduled to testify.

Inappropriate sexual conduct was severe and pervasive at the Kapolei store, said attorney Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara, who represented two former workers who brought sexual harassment charges against the retailer in other cases.

"It was like Playboy at Safeway," Fujiwara said. "It was like Penthouse magazine came to call."

Lambert acknowledged that the store had problems in the mid-90s with inappropriate behavior -- problems that she said were highly unusual for the retailer.

As a result, people were fired for violating company policies, according to Lambert. And she said no such problems persist in Kapolei.

"It is a terrific store," Lambert said in her statement. "The store manager and his crew at Kapolei do an outstanding job. They work hard to provide superior service to Safeway's customers."

Pat Loo, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 480, which represents about 120 workers at the Kapolei store, agreed that management seems to have corrected the problem -- but not until it became a liability issue.

In addition to Quitoriano's $250,000, Safeway paid one of Fujiwara's former clients to settle her sex harassment case in 1997. The terms were confidential, as were those of a settlement Safeway reached with a manager who was fired that same year.

The manager was dismissed after admitting having an affair with a subordinate he supervised at another store, according to court records. Another Kapolei manager, also accused of sexual harassment, was fired in 1996.

A company can have a strong policy against misconduct, "but we can't stop people from doing inappropriate things," Lambert said.

When Safeway learned of the two bathroom incidents, it immediately investigated and, in the mid-90s one, fired the employee involved, Lambert said.

Former Safeway worker Edwin Galapia said in his May 2000 deposition that managers joked about the peephole after the employee was caught.

The management team (was) making fun of the issue," he said.

In the more recent incident, a woman was in the bathroom when she heard a noise against the wall and saw a tiny hole -- smaller than the size of a dime, Lambert said.

The woman left the restroom, and while she was outside, a man left the adjacent men's bathroom, Lambert said. Safeway suspected that man created the hole in the bathrooms' shared wall, she said.

Quitoriano recalled one incident in which a woman complained to him that someone was "peeping tomming" on her and her daughter in the bathroom, according to his deposition. When he reported the incident to managers, they acted "like it never happened," Quitoriano said.

It was unclear whether he was referring to either of the two incidents that Lambert acknowledged.

Quitoriano, through his attorney, declined comment for this story, citing the confidentiality clause of his settlement.

Lambert didn't have information on how long the mid-90's hole existed. The company believes the one in 1999 was covered up right after it was created, she said.

No evidence of a peephole between the two restrooms could be found when the Star-Bulletin checked recently.

Other allegations raised in the lawsuit painted a disturbing picture of the work environment the former workers said existed at the Kapolei store during the 90s.

In a 1999 affidavit, Quitoriano said two managers were among those who in 1994 stuck a birthday greeting and Kotex and Tampon liners stained with strawberry juice on his parked van. They later gave Quitoriano a photo of the "birthday" van and put copies near the employee time clock, he said in his deposition.

A copy of the photo was included in the court file.

Also in his deposition, Quitoriano described a system he said was used as recently as January 2000 by male personnel wanting to peer at women wearing short outfits near the low metal strips.

If a woman in a mini skirt was spotted in the store, someone would announce a code over the public address system to alert the others, Quitoriano said.

"Then all of a sudden you see them, all these three clerks, a manager, following a girl with a mini skirt," he said.

Lambert, however, said Safeway has no reason to believe those alleged activities actually happened -- despite the corroboration.

"Ninety-nine percent of those things you raised are only allegations," Lambert told the Star-Bulletin. "They were not factually proven."

For years, Safeway has maintained a strong policy against sexual harassment -- even more stringent than what is required by federal and state law, she said.

All complaints of violations of the policy are investigated and appropriate corrective action is taken where misconduct has occurred," Lambert added.

Moreover, a federal judge who dismissed a sexual harassment case against Safeway ruled that the company's policy against harassment was effectively communicated to employees, Lambert said.

The case stemmed from incidents alleged to have occurred between 1994 and 1996 at the Kapolei store.

In suing Safeway, the EEOC alleged that Kapolei workers, including Quitoriano, were fired after complaining about sexual harassment.

When Galapia was asked in his deposition why he had not reported an alleged camera-zooming incident he considered inappropriate, he replied: "Let me state again, sir, that because of what I had seen at Safeway, reporting things could either get you terminated or transferred."

Quitoriano's 1996 firing on grounds he falsified his time card was later reversed by an arbitrator, who called the dismissal "far too severe." The penalty instead was reduced to a three-day suspension.

As part of the EEOC settlement, Safeway agreed to step up its training on preventing sexual harassment and retaliation.

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