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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 26, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 17
Employee charges anti-Gay bias at Mill Creek Fred Meyer store
Section One
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Employee charges anti-Gay bias at Mill Creek Fred Meyer store

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Fred Meyer employee says he and his husband were subjected to anti-Gay bias at the retail chain's Mill Creek store.

Jack Evans told the SGN that the incident happened in December 2018, when his husband, Lee, came to pick him up after his shift.

'Lee parked in the employee lot, came in through the regular door, and we both exited through the employee door,' Evans recalled. As they were going out the employee door, they were stopped by a store security employee, who told them the area was for employees only.

'Oh, that's all right, that's my husband,' Evans told the security person. According to him, she 'made a disgusted face, held that face for more than five seconds, then rolled her eyes.' As Evans and his husband left, they both agreed they had been disrespected by the other employee.

Evans walked back in the store and asked to speak to management. He was confronted by his immediate supervisor and an HR person, he says. He then lodged a complaint about the security employee's conduct.

'I told them 'I want to call my union rep,' he explained to the SGN. Like all Fred Meyer employees, Evans is represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21.

'The HR person asked, 'For what?' Evans recounted. 'At that point I didn't know what to say because I'd never had to use my union before.'

Evans told the SGN he'd never had issues with other employees or with management before the incident with the security employee. His immediate supervisor, the store's deli manager, was always friendly to him, Evans added.

The supervisors on the scene assured Evans that he was mistaken, and the security employee was not homophobic. 'They calmed me down, and I went home,' he recalled.

Filing complaints
Evans later filed a formal complaint with the Mill Creek store management, in which he detailed the facts of the incident, but he never got a response. When he followed up on the complaint, he was told there was no written statement in the store's records.

'They said there was no written complaint, so whatever I wrote must have been thrown away,' he told the SGN.

'All I wanted was an investigation and an apology. They made me feel like I'm crazy. When I think about it, it feels like I'm not important enough to respond to.'

Evans also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws in the workplace. But 'they told me they couldn't do anything because there was no [physical or written] evidence. They said they'd keep my complaint on file for a year in case there were more issues.'

Microaggressions
The kind of anti-Gay bias Evans experienced is often referred to as 'microaggression' - bias that doesn't go as far as overt verbal harassment or physical assault. But the incident was far from 'micro' for him.

Evans said he suffered significant mental and physical health consequences. He has experienced severe anxiety over his treatment by Fred Meyer management. He is HIV positive, he explained, and the stress caused him to develop folliculitis.

'I blew through 50 hours of my sick pay when this first happened,' Evans told the SGN, 'and they seem unconcerned. I'm asking for six months' leave now, so I can get some mental peace back.'

In documents Evans made available to the SGN, the Kroger Corporation - owners of Fred Meyer and QFC - denied his request for personal leave to deal with the health consequences of his experience.

Evans also felt he'd lost the support of his immediate supervisors. 'Before, I was friends with the deli manager,' he told the SGN. 'Now he's icy. He used to tell me I was a great employee. Now it feels like I'm a troublemaker.'

Evans transferred to the Everett Fred Meyers store but eventually quit when he was ambushed in the Everett store's HR office by a Mill Creek manager.

According to Evans, manager Kevin Ruoff surprised him in the office of Everett HR manager Kathleen Price, even though Evans had previously declined to meet with him. While there, Ruoff told Evans his complaints were groundless 'and he doesn't know what I want,' Evans said. 'I told him I want the results in writing.'

Evans has now filed a grievance against Ruoff for the incident, but he found it so stressful that he suffered a relapse of folliculitis.

'I am not going back to work,' he told the SGN. 'I have to see a mental health professional to try and cope with the mental and physical stress this company gave me.'

Response
The SGN reached out to the Mill Creek Fred Meyer management for a comment on Evans' charges. A management employee who would only identify himself as 'Robert' referred the SGN to Fred Meyer corporate headquarters in Portland. There, questions were referred to Jeffery Temple in the corporate Public Affairs office. Temple did not respond to a request for comment.

Evans said he has received Facebook posts and texts from Fred Meyer employees supporting him and offering to confirm his story. At least one employee told him she had similar experiences with the security person in question.

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