Ex-Fred Meyer worker awarded $208,000 by jury

Employee says she was fired so boss could hire prettier woman

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A former Fred Meyer Stores Inc. employee who said she was fired because her boss wanted to replace her with a younger, prettier woman he had eyes for, was awarded $208,000 by a jury last week.

After a five-day trial, the jury in federal court found that Fred Meyer had not acted in good faith when it fired Myrna Johnson in 2002.

Johnson's lawyer, Mark Choate, said in a statement that the ruling "not only vindicated this hard-working woman ... but sends a message to Fred Meyer and other employers that the workplace is not a dating pool."

A spokeswoman for Portland, Ore.-based Fred Meyer, Melinda Merrill, said the company does not agree with the verdict and plans to appeal.

Johnson's case centers around the actions of her former boss, Jaime San Miguel, who is an assistant store director at Fred Meyer.

Johnson took a leave of absence in 2002 to care for her daughter. In court records, a former co-worker of Johnson said she heard supervisor San Miguel say he wanted Johnson's replacement to be someone "young and beautiful" and "not a hag."

Johnson's temporary replacement was Johnna Havard, who is described in court records by former co-workers as "young and attractive."

When Johnson, who was 49 at the time, returned from her leave of absence, Choate said San Miguel harassed, intimidated and forced his client out of her job so he could give her job to Havard.

Fred Meyer's lawyers said Johnson wasn't meeting her responsibilities when she came back from her leave of absence. They said she was defiant toward her supervisors and walked away from the job voluntarily after she was counseled that her job performance needed to improve.

After Johnson's departure, Havard was given Johnson's job on a permanent basis. She said in court records that after her appointment, San Miguel invited her over to his house for "some Latin dancing," a request she said she considered inappropriate.

She said her working relationship with San Miguel began to deteriorate after she got engaged to be married and his actions forced her out of her management job.

San Miguel declined to comment for this story.

In February, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Fred Meyer for allegedly allowing managers at a store in Oregon to engage in sexual harassment against female employees and then retaliating against a woman who complained.

Spokeswoman Merrill said there were 51 complaints filed against Fred Meyer with the EEOC in 2007 - a low number, she said, for a company with 30,000 employees.

Merrill said Fred Meyer, which is owned by Kroger Co., has a "good system in place" for training its managers in how to treat their employees fairly.

"We can't be a successful business if we're not a good place to work," Merrill said.

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